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49ers demonstration during Anthem presents call, unity following Jed York comments

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Fooch’s update: Jed York offered this statement to Eric Branch about the players’ plans and whether it will continue.

“They kind of gave me a sense what they wanted to do, and I asked if they wanted me to join,” said York who — with general manager John Lynch — stood behind the team on the sideline during the anthem. “I wanted to make sure that we stayed together as a team.

“I think the statement speaks for itself, but we’ve had guys taking a knee for 20-plus games. ... I think the whole idea is to bring protest to progress.”

As to whether the protests will continue, York said, “I believe in the First Amendment, whether you agree or disagree with the action that guys take, they have the right under the Constitution to do so. But I think that we have the ability to do something to advance social causes and social justice, and that’s ultimately what I’m going to be working on.”

The San Francisco 49ers faced the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday in their first game since hosting the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday Night Football. The layoff between games meant the 49ers were not on the field last Sunday when a lot of teams were conducting various demonstrations.

Earlier this past week, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan both said the players were getting together to come up with some kind of demonstration, but something that would involve the entire team. They came up with something that showed this unity, but also went further than what a lot of teams did. During the National Anthem, the 49ers had half their players take a knee, and the other half standing behind them with a hand on their shoulders.

You can view it in the picture above, and the team tweeted out this video of the team, even as booing was going on around them.

There is plenty to criticize about some of the “unity” displays we have seen over the past week. The locking of arms shows unity of the team, but doesn’t actually say what the unity is about.

The 49ers issued a statement that pointed to social justice issues, but was fairly innocuous. The demonstration offered a bit more given how many team demonstrations the past week were locking arms or something fairly basic. But seeing the players take a slightly bigger stand and in turn seeing relatively strong support from the organization is not all that surprising.

Over the weekend, ESPN had a big feature on what the past week was like following Donald Trump’s comments, and amidst his flurry of tweeting. Some owners were scared of the power players were gaining, and plenty of owners wanted to silence the protests as best they could. Jed York was one of the few owners who seemed amenable to letting the players make their displeasure very clear.

Some teams, such as the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos, had been dealing with the protests for more than a year, and 49ers owner Jed York argued that it was a nuanced topic with no easy answers and that it would take time to navigate. "We need to respect First Amendment rights, regardless of our personal feelings of the actions involved," York told the room.

It is not surprising to see York speaking up for the player protests. When Colin Kaepernick first took a knee and started talking about his $1 million donation plan, York and the 49ers donated $1 million to two Bay Area organizations that deal with racial and economic inequality. Earlier last year, York and the 49ers donated $75,000 to a North Carolina LGBTQ organization amidst the state’s attempt to pass the HB2 “bathroom bill.”

Now, the question is what will happen next. Eric Reid and others have been taking steps to implement actions. We’ve seen Malcolm Jenkins working on criminal justice, Doug Baldwin, Michael Bennett, and Michael Thomas, among others, working within their communities, and of course Colin Kaepernick donating $1 million and running various youth camps. The issues will not be resolved overnight, or really anytime soon. But in the meantime, activism continues and awareness increases.