Colin Kaepernick thanked a pair of Miami Dolphins players for taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem prior to the first game of the NFL regular season Sunday.
Miami Dolphins wide receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson were the first -- and as of Sunday evening, the only -- two players to kneel during "The Star-Spangled Banner" prior to a Week 1 game.
"My Brothers [Stills] and [Wilson] continue to show their unwavering strength by fighting for the oppressed! They have not backed down, even when attacked and intimidated." Kaepernick wrote on Twitter, adding, "Love is at the root of our resistance!"
In addition to Stills and Watson's protest, Dolphins defensive end Robert Quinn raised a fist during the anthem. San Francisco 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin did the same prior to the Niners' game at Minnesota.
Before the late games, Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas and linebacker Brandon Marshall, and Seahawks linemen Duane Brown and Quinton Jefferson, retreated to their respective tunnels while the anthem played. In Los Angeles, Chargers left tackle Russell Okung raised his fist.
The season’s first full slate of games came just days after apparel giant Nike aired its highly anticipated “Just Do It” ad featuring Kaepernick during the NFL season opener Thursday night.
The decision by Nike to spotlight Kaepernick drew a huge mixed reaction, with his supporters praising the company, and opponents blasting the move and taking to social media to show photos and videos of Nike products being dumped or damaged.
The Nike endorsement deal with Kaepernick racheted up the tensions nationwide over the decision of some NFL players to follow Kaepernick’s lead and refuse to stand for the national anthem to call attention to social injustice, including police brutality. Those who have assailed players who refuse to stand for the anthem say they are being unpatriotic.
Leading up to the start of the games on Sunday, tweets reflected the diversity of feelings about the issue, which has prompted some broadcasters to avoid showing the anthem live before the games.
Some fans tweeted that while they supported the right of NFL players to express their feelings, they resented their decision to do it during a game, and spoiling the fun of it for viewers.
Cameron Grant @coolcambackup tweeted: “I respect Colin Kaepernick and NFL players right to protest every day of the week, but not an NFL field. I understand players are not protesting the American flag or national anthem, but they disrespect the integrity of the game by turning fans away from the sport.”
NFL ratings have been down, which experts attribute to the tensions over the player protests. NBC ratings for the Atlanta Falcons-Philadelphia Eagles season opener Thursday were 13 percent lower than expected. Last NFL regular season, ratings were down nearly 10 percent.
Some fans, meanwhile, defended players who take a knee.
(((DeanObeidallah)))tweeted: “As a person who truly believes in freedom of expression I hope during national anthem today that the NFL players stand, kneel, stay in the locker room or respond in any way they so feel. Freedom of expression means just that -they have the freedom to decide.”
Many fans, however, had their minds on chicken wings and beer, and ignored the controversy.
Aliquickk @Aliquickk tweeted: “Today is very much Christmas in September for football fans. The excitement, energy, and butterflies are swirling: just as they did as a kid on Christmas mornings. It's time for the first NFL Sunday of the year! Let's go!!!”
The NFL briefly had a policy in place in May regarding the anthem, but quickly rescinded it so the league and players union could negotiate. Virtually all Sunday's reactions were expected, and similar -- if not identical -- to what these players did in games either last season or during the exhibition season.
President Trump, who has been a vocal critic of the player protest, weighed in on Sunday before the games began, warning that NFL ratings would go down even more if the networks do not show the anthem live and if players continue to refuse to stand during the ceremony.
CBS and Fox, which carried Sunday afternoon's games, have said they did not plan on televising the anthem.
However, NBC did show the anthem on Thursday night, and no players kneeled or protested in other ways.
That included Malcolm Jenkins, who raised his fist during the anthem last season but did not for the opener. During pregame warmups, he wore a shirt that read "Ca$h bail (equals) poverty trap."
Jenkins, a founder of the Players Coalition which was formed to tackle issues similar to those Kaepernick is concerned about, said he would like to move the focus away from the anthem.
"I think there's a huge need for us to turn the attention to not only the issues, but what players are actually doing in their communities to promote change," he said. "We're trying to move past the rhetoric of what's right or what's wrong in terms of the anthem, and really focus on the systematic issues that are plaguing our communities."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.