CLEVELAND — Players and coaches for both the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals linked arms and stood together at mid-field during the playing of the national anthem prior to the Browns' 35-30 win on Thursday Night Football.
The gesture allowed players from both teams to show unity while recognizing racial injustices and the need for police reform.
The anthem was performed by Dr. Adriane Thompson-Bradshaw, the vice president for student affairs at Ohio Northern University, in a pre-recorded video. After the national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" —sometimes referred to as the Black national anthem — was played while the teams continued to stand in unity before the 6,000 fans in attendance.
Thursday's game marked the second week in a row that the Bengals linked arms with their opponents during the national anthem. The team performed a similar gesture before playing the Chargers in Cincinnati on Sunday.
The Texans and Chiefs also met at midfield for a show of unity during week 1. However, the teams met at midfield following the national anthem, as the Texans chose to come to the field after the song had been played. That show of unity drew a mixed reaction from the Kansas City crowd, including "boos" audible on the telecast.
Three Browns players — Myles Garrett, KhaDarel Hodge and Ronnie Harrison — opted to kneel during the Browns season opener in Baltimore last week, while the rest of the team chose to stand.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield was up-and-down on the issue pre-season, first saying he would "absolutely" kneel during the anthem in June, then changing his stance one day before last Sunday's game in Baltimore.
Mayfield said he made the decision after having been shown "that a gesture such as kneeling will only create more division or discussion about the gesture, rather than be a solution towards our country's problems at hand."
While kneeling during the anthem is technically prohibited by rules in the league's game operations manual, Commissioner Roger Goddell said pre-season that he would support players who chose to protest by kneeling.
"We have never disciplined a single player for anything with the national anthem and in violation (of the policy). And I don't intend to. And I will support them," Goodell said in an episode of "Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man" with NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho.
This story was originally published by Ian Cross on WEWS in Cleveland.