By Matt Citak

The biggest story line in the NFL last week was what was occurring on the field prior to kickoff. After President Trump criticized the NFL and its players for kneeling during the national anthem, around 200 players chose to protest last weekend. Many teams had players take a knee or sit on the bench during the singing of the national anthem, while the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, and Seattle Seahawks decided to stay off the field entirely until after the anthem was done.

The New York Jets were one of several clubs that met as a team prior to Sunday and decided to lock arms while standing for the national anthem. According to the team’s second-most veteran player, running back Matt Forte, this was done to portray a sense of unity between every member of the team.

“We talked about it as a team to see what the feeling was, and the one word that came to us was unity,” said the 31-year-old running back who’s playing in his 10th season in the NFL. “For us to unify and unite together. It’s the first word of our country. The United States of America. So if we weren’t united, I don’t think that would be sending the right message. Me as a black man, I appreciate and understand what Colin Kaepernick did, and I respect that. It got the conversation started. And those conversations need to continue to be had to figure out what’s going to be the answers. To figure out the racism that’s going on in the United States. But also other issues with sexism, the drug abuse problem that’s going on. There’s so many issues in the United States that [we] need to find solutions to.

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“Like I said, [Kaepernick] got the conversation started, and we felt like as a team, if we were to kneel, it would continue to create more divisiveness. You’re splitting a line in America where [you have] ethnic people over here, and white people over there. And so we felt like if we kneeled, it would create more divisiveness than bringing everyone together. So we as a team, we felt like a picture of our locker room is kind of like looking in a mirror of what America is. It’s a melting pot. We’ve got guys that are Black, White, Hispanic, every color, every creed, every background, every neighborhood, that come from rich families, poor families, hard-working families. That’s what our locker room is. It looks like America. So if we can all come together for one goal, which is to play football and win games and to be brothers with each other and lock arms, I think America can do that as well.”

On Tuesday night, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell met with about 25 owners, league executives, and players to discuss the national anthem demonstrations. New York Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas said the summit at the league’s headquarters in Manhattan lasted about two hours, and several of the NFL’s most prominent owners attended, including John Mara of the Giants, Robert Kraft of the Patriots and Art Rooney II of the Steelers. NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent was also present, along with eight players from five teams.

“The commissioner believed with all the owners here for committee meetings it was important to bring in some players and hear directly from them,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in responding to an email from The Associated Press. “While the conversations will remain private, they were very informative and instructive.”

During last night’s nationally televised Thursday Night Football game, all members of both the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers stood with their arms locked for the national anthem. Prior to the game, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers asked the fans at Lambeau Field to join the players by all locking arms for the anthem. The hope was to get the entire stadium to stand with their arms together. While they fell short of this goal, many fans around Lambeau could be seen locking arms with each other, including supporters from both teams joining arms.

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“This is about equality,” Rodgers, who played college football at UC Berkeley, told ESPN. “This is about unity and love and growing together as a society and starting a conversation around something that may be a little bit uncomfortable for people.”

With President Trump continuing to talk about the NFL and dismissing the players that decide to peacefully protest, this will likely be a hot topic throughout the entire season. Following Goodell’s meeting with players, owners, and league executives on Tuesday, who knows how teams will decide to handle their protests this weekend. No matter what happens, Sunday is sure to be a very interesting day in the NFL.

Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to