The decision for nine Saints to sit on a bench behind the sideline during the national anthem was a spontaneous choice by those players, New Orleans safety Kenny Vaccaro said.
"I was just sitting on the bench as the game was about to begin and I was like, 'You know what, I am not getting up,'" Vaccaro said. "I asked (safety) Rafael Bush if he was going to get up, and the next thing I knew, everyone was joining us."
The form of protest came after President Donald Trump's recent statement that NFL players who don't stand for the national anthem should be fired.
Vaccaro said the team didn't discuss the issue collectively and there was no premediated protest at Bank of America Stadium, where the Saints defeated the Carolina Panthers 34-13. "At the same time, I thought it was bigger than football," Vaccaro said.
No Panthers were seen seated or kneeling during the anthem.
New Orleans running back Adrian Peterson also was seated during the anthem. "Just showing the world where we stand with equality, not just for African-Americans," Peterson said. "There is a need for change."
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton said Trump's comments were unacceptable. He called for continued dialogue on the topic of social injustice, though he said he wanted to stay in his lane on the subject.
Panthers veteran defensive end Julius Peppers didn't come onto the field until after the national anthem. "I want to let you guys know that this wasn't about disrespecting the military, disrespecting the flag, police, first responders, none of that," Peppers said after the game. "It wasn't about that. It was about me making a decision as a man on my two feet.
"I just thought it was appropriate to stay in because we know what went on this week with the comments that were made by the president and I felt like he attacked our brothers, my brothers in the league."
Peppers said he is not asking everyone to understand and he realizes some people might be upset by his decision. He said he didn't discuss his choice to skip the anthem with teammates and that he was the lone player in the locker room.
"I'm not living my life out there trying to make everybody happy," Peppers said. "I'm doing things that I feel like are right and things that I believe in."
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