Trio of Titans raised fists in protest after anthem ended

NASHVILLE: A trio of Tennessee Titans say they raised their right fists in the air after the national anthem ended to honor the victims and heroes of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US, and to bring attention to the ongoing unequal treatment of African-Americans and other minorities.

Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, cornerback Jason McCourty and linebacker Wesley Woodyard all had hands over their hearts during the anthem before Sunday's season opener against Minnesota. Seconds after the anthem ended, they raised their arms into the air in solidarity with protests around the league, even though their gesture went unnoticed until Monday after a Sports Illustrated photo started circulating.

McCourty said Monday that they want to help bridge a gap in equality for everyone, specifically African-Americans.

"I don't want it to be taken as something that was us trying to separate people," McCourty said. "It was more trying to bring everyone together in solidarity trying to come up with a situation to better our country. We love it, but that doesn't mean that we don't have room for improvement."

San Francisco backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the first NFL player who chose to kneel during the anthem in preseason games to call attention to what he says is the oppression of blacks and other minorities.

Kaepernick and teammate Eric Reid once again kneeled during the national anthem before the 49ers' season opener against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night. Rams defensive lineman Robert Quinn and receiver Kenny Britt also held fists up during the anthem.

Kaepernick has refused to stand for the anthem all season in protest of police brutality and racial oppression in the United States. Reid joined him during the final pre-season exhibition game when the two decided to kneel, instead of sit, in a move meant to show more respect to veterans.

Several other players around the league took part in similar protests on the NFL's opening weekend.

U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who won the gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the 200-meter race at the 1968 Olympics appeared on the medal stands with raised, black-gloved fists throughout the U.S. national anthem in what they said was a "human rights salute."

On Sunday, Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters also raised a black-gloved fist during the national anthem, and four Miami Dolphins kneeled on the sideline with hands on their hearts as "The Star Spangled Banner" played in Seattle. McCourty's brother, Devin, raised his fist along with Martellus Bennett before New England's win in Arizona on Sunday night.

McCourty, a New York native, said there's been a lot of talk among NFL players about the different ways to get their message across. His older brother served in the Gulf War, and his father also was in the military. So they chose to respect the anthem first, and McCourty said Monday the hope is these protests get people talking about how to solve the issues Kaepernick highlighted.

"Now moving forward, it's about getting in our communities and trying actually to make change and try to actually make an impact," McCourty said. "A single action on a Sunday isn't going to do anything, so I think now it's, what you do in the community throughout the weeks and throughout the next several months."

Woodyard said there's no wrong or right way to protest.

"We're just trying to show our right that we're standing for our brothers out there, and we are," he said.

The trio also have the support and respect of coach Mike Mularkey, who noted they are leaders on this team.

"I know they're passionate about the cause, and so I'm supportive of them," Mularkey said.