Jeff Legwold, ESPN Senior Writer 20d

Denver Broncos players vote to stand for national anthem: 'It starts with us'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos players, after a meeting of the team's leadership council, have decided they will stand for the national anthem before Sunday's game (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS) against the Oakland Raiders, and for the games that follow.

Broncos coach Vance Joseph said the players believe the decision of 32 Broncos players to take a knee during the anthem before Sunday's loss to the Buffalo Bills was improperly interpreted by many as a protest against the military or the flag when it was actually a direct reaction to President Donald Trump's comments at a political rally last weekend.

The players also released a statement about the decision.

"It wasn't an apology or anything, we just wanted to state where our minds were at," said linebacker Von Miller, a team captain and one of the players on the leadership council. "That's where the confusion kind of comes from, especially from the fans; we wanted to set the record straight, exactly the reasons why, and just move forward."

The statement:

"Last week members of our team joined their brothers around the NFL in a powerful display of unity. It was an emotional time for everyone, including the fans who support us each and every week. As controversial as it appeared, we needed to show our collective strength and resolve.

"Our voices needed to be heard loud and clear.

"Make no mistake -- our actions were in no way a protest of the military, the flag or those who keep us safe. We have nothing but the deepest love and respect for those who protect our way of life and the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

"While there's no greater country, it's not perfect. Inequities still exist, and we have work to do in ALL forms of social justice.

"We can all do better.

"It starts with us. We need to do our part and use our platform as NFL players to continue driving that positive change.

"Our locker room is one diverse place, and that's what makes it so special. It's where thoughtful, intelligent leaders from all different races, religions and backgrounds come together.

"We may have different values and beliefs, but there's one thing we all agree on: We're a team and we stand together -- no matter how divisive some comments and issues can be, nothing should ever get in the way of that.

"Starting Sunday, we'll be standing together."

The Broncos' leadership council is comprised of the five team captains – Miller, QB Trevor Siemian, WR Demaryius Thomas, CB Aqib Talib and K Brandon McManus – and several of the team's most tenured players. The group met Wednesday to see if a consensus could be found about what the players wanted to do moving forward.

"We talked about it as a team, like how we talked about the decision to do it before the game," Miller said. "We just talked about it. I'm a huge team guy, we're all team guys. We just felt the best way, that was the best direction to go."

Joseph said: "Had a meeting [Wednesday] after practice ... they wanted a statement of what they were doing. ... I'm proud of the guys."

With so many active-duty and retired members of the military in the Denver and Colorado Springs area -- which includes Fort Carson, Buckley Air Force Base and the Air Force Academy -- many of the Broncos players who knelt Sunday made it clear afterward that their gesture was not a protest of the military.

On Wednesday, Siemian said: "I just think it's important for them to know, everybody in this locker room supports the military, and I think that there are plenty of examples of that, no matter who the guy is. I don't think I've talked to anyone in that locker room who doesn't appreciate what the military and armed forces do for our country. It's pretty standard in our locker room."

Joseph said the team has not required players to stand for the anthem, though he and president of football operations/general manager John Elway have said they believe players should stand. Elway has publicly expressed his support for the president on many issues and has been a prominent figure at some local GOP fundraising events.

"We have not forced these guys to stand ... it's been their right to have peaceful protest," Joseph said.

Asked if he thought it was important for players to have an outlet to express what they believe in, Joseph said: "If they want one, absolutely, that's important. Getting back to football and showing unity was important, but everybody has the right to have a voice in this country. That's part of being a U.S. citizen."

Joseph added that it is important for everyone to get involved in their local communities to "make true change."

"You have to get out there and do it," Joseph said. "That was also talked about ... you have to go out there and make real change."

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