MIAMI — Kenny Stills kneeled in protest during the national anthem Thursday, and said he offered a prayer of thanks that he had a teammate’s support.
Stills and two other Miami Dolphins renewed their protests before an exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, triggering yet another round of debate about the divisive NFL issue.
Receivers Stills and Albert Wilson kneeled behind teammates lined up standing along the sideline. Defensive end Robert Quinn stood and raised his right fist, as he did during the anthem last season with the Los Angeles Rams.
Stills said he didn’t co-ordinate with Wilson, who joined the Dolphins this season.
"It just happened that way," Stills said. "When I’m on a knee, most of the time I’m praying, and thank God for having Albert next to me. Being a part of this protest hasn’t been easy. I thought I was going to be by myself out there. Today I had an angel with me with Albert being out there. I’m grateful he sees what’s happening, and he wants to do something about it as well."
Stills kneeled during the anthem in the 2016-17 seasons and has been vocal discussing social injustice issues that inspired the protests by NFL players.
Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a leader of the movement, tweeted support for Stills and Wilson.
"My brother â†•kstills continued his protest of systemic oppression tonight by taking a knee," the tweet said. "Albert Wilson joined him in protest. Stay strong brothers!"
Kaepernick and his former teammate Eric Reid, another protest leader, remain out of the NFL. Stills said both players were blackballed, and he talks with Kaepernick every week.
"I appreciate his loyalty and support," Stills said. "I don’t see any reason he and Eric Reid shouldn’t be in the league."
Wilson said he kneeled mindful of the death of an unarmed black motorist who was shot by police in 2016 near his hometown of Fort Pierce, Florida. Two officers were cleared by a grand jury in the case.
"Getting shot down and being murdered — the biggest thing in my city," Wilson said. "For me to have so much love for my city and not do anything about it, I would be a coward. I’m with it every Sunday."
Quinn said it’s slander to say he and kneeling players are protesting the flag.
"As a black man in this world, I’ve got an obligation to raise awareness," he said. "If no one wants to live in unity, that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in."
The league and the players’ union have yet to announce a policy for this season regarding demonstrations during the anthem after the league initially ordered everyone to stand on the sideline when "The Star-Spangled Banner" is played, or remain in the locker room. The Dolphins issued a statement before training camp saying all options regarding the team’s policy remain open.
"The NFL has been engaged in constructive discussions with the NFL Players Association regarding the anthem and issues of equality and social justice that are of concern to many Americans," league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email. "While those discussions continue, the NFL has agreed to delay implementing or enforcing any club work rules that could result in players being disciplined for their conduct during the performance of the anthem.
"Meanwhile, there has been no change in the NFL’s policy regarding the national anthem. The anthem will continue to be played before every game, and all player and non-player personnel on the field at that time are expected to stand during the presentation of the flag and performance of the anthem. Personnel who do not wish to do so can choose to remain in the locker room.
"We remain committed to working with the players to identify solutions and to continue making progress on important social issues affecting our communities."
There were no apparent demonstrations by the Buccaneers.