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Saints players weigh in on NFL's new anthem policy: 'it's important for our league to get it right...'

The Advocate - 5/25/2018

May 25--Demario Davis knows all about both sides of the national anthem issue.

The social justice side.

And the military side.

The Saints linebacker spends a great part of his offseason helping with social justice causes.

He's also the son of a longtime Army veteran.

So when the NFL announced Wednesday its new policy regarding the national anthem, Davis admitted he had "mixed emotions."

"I think it's a very important time in our history," Davis said. "Everybody is watching our game so it's important for our league to get it right and how we handle certain situations. I do not agree with the ruling. I do not in any shape, form or fashion agree with it. It has nothing to do with kneeling and has never been about kneeling. It's always been about what they were protesting for.

"I just think it's never right to take somebody's rights to have the abilities to choose to do what they want to do."

Under the league's new policy, players can now choose to stay in the locker room during the national anthem. But players who come on the field are now required to stand for the anthem or their team will be fined by the league.

The league's new policy came after several players in the league decided to hold silent protests by kneeling during the anthem last season. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem in the 2016 season as a way to protest what he viewed as racial injustice, particularly involving police brutality, in the United States.

The NFL's decision came just a day after the NFL and the Players Coalition finalized a partnership that would give close to $90 million to fight social inequality in the United States.

Davis, in his first season with the Saints after playing with the New York Jets last season, is part of the Players Coalition.

He says the new anthem policy sends a mixed message.

"I thought it was a bit of playing two different faces," Davis said. "On one end, the league ownership is supporting players in their social efforts for the community, even donating funds so we can do tons of work. It's them helping and saying whatever you want to do, use it (the money). But them to come back with this (policy), it's almost like they are trying to stifle players."

Davis says the new policy will put some players in an awkward position.

"It puts players in a certain space where they have to make a decision because they are being pressed," Davis said. "When you tell people you have to do this, it's going to make a few people want to do the opposite."

Saints coach Sean Payton said his team will address the new policy at some point, just like it did last season. The Saints played one game during the 2017 season when players protested during the anthem. It was in a road game against the Carolina Panthers, two days after President Donald Trump's statements about NFL protests. Trump suggested during a rally in Alabama in September that NFL owners should fire players who protest during the anthem.

Ten Saints players sat on the bench during that game and there were numerous other similar protests around the league that day.

"Fortunately we have had great leadership, and we still do," Payton said. "So I'm sure our players will have a chance to digest it all, and we'll come up with what we as a team feel is right. ... Something as significant as this anthem discussions, we'll handle as a team."

The Saints' first preseason game is still more than two months away, so there is still time to decide how to handle the issue.

"I think you guys know where I stand," Drew Brees said. "I think I've made myself very clear. I will be standing up with my hand over my heart showing respect to the United States of America and the flag and everything it stands for. ... I'm really not too worried about it. I would expect that everybody's going to be out there with their hand over their heart showing respect to the flag and to the country."

Offensive lineman Terron Armstead says he hasn't thought much about the new policy yet. But he knows the potential effects it could cause in the locker room.

"It is a divisive issue, and it can become a problem internally if not approached right," Armstead said. "If guys reject trying to hear the other side, or don't want to listen to the protest; the reason for the protest. If you got things like that, it can become a bit standoffish between a couple players or whatever, so we don't want that."

Davis said having the players on the team respecting each other's opinions will help.

"Everybody comes from a different background, and everybody is going to look at this situation differently," Davis said. "That's the great part about America. We know how to respect each other's opinions. Or we should know how to. ... You're always a part of a team and organization first. Whatever our leadership wants from us, whole and collectively, that's what we'll do."

Davis didn't kneel during the anthem as a member of the Jets, but instead stood with his teammates with interlocked arms. He said regardless of what the Saints decide to do as a team, he'll continue to fight for social justice. He compares his love for his country to the love he has for his family.

"I love my children and when they do wrong things, I'm going to let them know they are doing wrong things," Davis said. "I'm not going to just sweep it under the rug because I love them. I think that's the difference between patriotism and nationalism. Nationalism is just loving your country just to love it, even when it's right or wrong. You always take the side of your country. Patriotism is loving it enough to sacrifice for it but also to call it when it's wrong."

It's a balance he obtained growing up the son of an Army veteran.

"My father put his life on the line many times for our country," Davis said. "So a huge pride and concern and love for our country has always been instilled in me and always will be. I just think that when you love something and you care about it, you want to work to get it right."

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(c)2018 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

Visit The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. at www.theadvocate.com

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