BUFFALO — Perhaps no NFL team embodies the expanding political divide in America more than the Denver Broncos.
Balanced by a highly paid linebacker who was one of the first players to kneel during the national anthem and a front office with strong conservative leanings, some of the Broncos joined protests across the league in Week 3 on Sunday.
Roughly half of the Broncos roster and half of the Bills roster kneeled during the national anthem at New Era Field. Star players Von Miller, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib were among those who took a knee. At least one of the Broncos players, offensive lineman Max Garcia, raised a fist into the air as the anthem concluded and a pair of fighter jets roared over the stadium during a flyover.
The reaction to President Donald Trump's comments on the NFL could be witnessed across the league. The Pittsburgh Steelers elected to stay in the locker room during the national anthem, according to coach Mike Tomlin. Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan locked arms with his players before a game in London. Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy wrote on Twitter: "Our president is "a ass****."
The most common replica jerseys seen in the tailgate lots outside New Era Field were retired greats Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas and, yes, LeSean McCoy, the current star.
Broncos coach Vance Joseph addressed his team in regards to Trump's comments at the team hotel on Saturday. Joseph's message was to focus on the game and the team and avoid a divide in the locker room. That's consistent with the organization's approach that players are within their rights to protest, provided it doesn't take away from the team and their job.
"Our players have shown a tremendous commitment to raising awareness for important societal issues by using their platform in a positive way," Broncos president Joe Ellis said in a team statement. "In addition to their hard work off the field, we have great admiration for their dedication to making our team the absolute best it can be. They've made incredible sacrifices to reach this level, and we recognize they give their all to our team and fans each and every day.
"As an organization, we could not be more proud, appreciative and grateful for our players. We'll continue to support them and work together to advocate for values of respect, diversity and inclusion."
It's not the first time the Broncos have been in the center of an ego-driven debate that has no end in sight. On one end of the defensive locker room, Derek Wolfe once wore with pride a "MAGA" (Make America Great Again) ballcap, even as Brandon Marshall, the aforementioned linebacker, has voiced his concern over perceived social injustices. Last year during the election cycle, star cornerback Aqib Talib responded to Trump's take on "locker room talk" by saying the president was accurate in his description of the football workplace.
Wolfe also released a statement, via ESPN, that contrasts the views of many of his NFL brethren.
"I stand (for the national anthem) because I respect the men who died in real battle so I have the freedom to battle on the field. Paying tribute to the men and women who have given their lives for our freedom is why I stand," Wolfe told ESPN's Josina Anderson. "But everyone these days likes to find a reason to protest, and that's their right. It's America and you're free to speak your mind. I just feel it's disrespectful to the ones who sacrificed their lives and maybe it's the wrong platform. But like I said to each their own, it's America. The greatest country in the world, and if you don't think we are the greatest country in the world, and you reside here, then why do you stay? A lot worse places in the world to call home. Proud to be an American."
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