More than a dozen Patriots players knelt during the national anthem Sunday

 

Amid President Donald Trump’s escalating criticisms of the NFL and its players, pregame demonstrations returned to the spotlight this weekend. And for the first time Sunday, several Patriots players joined peers across the league in kneeling during the national anthem.

Brandin Cooks, Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Trey Flowers, and roughly a dozen other Patriots players locked arms and took a knee during the anthem. Tom Brady locked arms nearby with Phillip Dorsett.

—Jim Davis / The Boston Globe

Some boos could be heard from the Gillete Stadium crowd as the row of players knelt before the beginning of the anthem.

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Before the game, left tackle Nate Solder tweeted that, “stand or kneel,” there was too much mutual respect inside the Patriots locker room for the team to be divided over any such demonstrations, which former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began last year to protest the systemic racism in the United States.

The demonstrations reemerged Sunday after Trump’s repeated attacks on the NFL — both at a rally Friday and on Twitter over the weekend — in which he called for protesting players to be fired.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement Sunday that he supports the right of his team’s players to “peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”

Sunday appears to be the first time any Patriots player has knelt during the pregame anthem since Kaepernick’s demonstration garnered widespread attention last season. However, McCourty and former Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett did hold their fists in the air in solidarity at the end of the anthem before last year’s season opener.

“It’s all for the same cause, different social injustices,” McCourty told ESPN at the time.