Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer 364d

John Harbaugh on anthem protests: 'If I'm taking a knee, it's to pray'

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh on Monday said he supports his players' right to protest and that they have to decide for themselves how they're going to express themselves during the national anthem.

As for Harbaugh, he made it clear he's not taking a knee.

"If I'm taking a knee, it's to pray," Harbaugh said. "And I'll be praying for our country that we find a way to come together."

Sunday's game represented the first time a Ravens player displayed any form of protest during the national anthem. There were 13 Ravens players (Terrell Suggs, Mike Wallace, C.J. Mosley, Matt Judon, Za'Darius Smith, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, Carl Davis, Willie Henry, Tony Jefferson, Lardarius Webb, Anthony Levine and Marlon Humphrey) who took a knee, and they indicated afterward that it was a response to President Donald Trump's criticism of NFL players who had previously protested.

Harbaugh is unsure whether the protests will continue with the team.

"In all honesty, I will give about that much thought to that," Harbaugh said, holding up two fingers an inch apart, "because I don't think that's going to impact the game one way or the other. What I'm interested in is playing our best football game. That's as honest as I can be. The other part of it, we can figure it out as we go."

The Ravens' first protests came before their worst game in Harbaugh's 10 seasons. Baltimore lost 44-7 to Jacksonville on Sunday, the 37-point margin of defeat tying the largest in franchise history.

Did the protest become a distraction for the Ravens?

"You have to ask the players that individually," Harbaugh said. "I can't speak for them. It wasn't for me."

There has been a social media backlash against the Ravens since about one-quarter of their team took a knee. Some fans have threatened to not attend games, and others have talked about burning jerseys.

"It's an emotional issue all around," Harbaugh said.

Keeping focus is a priority for one of the more challenging weeks ever for the Ravens. After playing in London, the Ravens face division rival the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium a week later.

While many want to talk about player protests, Harbaugh wants to get his team ready to play the Steelers. The winner gains sole possession of first place in the AFC North.

"I'm trying to say the right things about all the big issues in our country, but what I'm trying to say is we're for unity," Harbaugh said. "We're for standing together. That's what a team is all about. That's all we can do. We're going to stand together Sunday and try to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. In all honesty, that's our focus. That's what we're thinking of."

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