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Green Bay players asking fans to link arms during anthem: 'This is about equality'

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers and his Packers teammates are asking fans at Lambeau Field for Thursday night's game against the Chicago Bears to join them in linking arms during the national anthem.

Most Packers players linked arms on the sideline before Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, though three players -- Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks and Kevin King -- sat on the bench.

Most of the Packers with their arms linked but Lance Kendricks, Martellus Bennett and Kevin King were seated.

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

In a statement released Tuesday night, the players said coaches and staff will join them with arms intertwined to represent a coming together of people who want "freedom, equality, tolerance, understanding and justice for those who have been unjustly treated, discriminated against or otherwise treated unfairly."

"Those of us joining arms on Thursday will be different in so many ways, but one thing that binds us together is that we are all individuals who want to help make our society, our country and our world a better place," the players said in the statement. "We believe that in diversity there can be UNI-versity. Intertwined, we represent the many people who helped build this country, and we are joining together to show that we are ready to continue to build.

"Let's work together to build a society that is more fair and just."

The statement, which called the NFL family "one of the most diverse communities in the world," noted how the game of football brings people together.

"The eclectic group of players that you root for, the coaches you admire, the people you sit next to in the stands, those high-fiving on military bases, fans at the sports bar or during tailgate parties -- we all come from different walks of life and have unique backgrounds and stories," the statement said.

"The game of football brings people together. As NFL players, we are a living testimony that individuals from different backgrounds and with different life experiences can work together toward a common goal."

Rodgers, speaking before the players' statement was released, said what the Packers are doing is not a protest.

"This is about equality," the quarterback said. "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. But we've got to come together and talk about these things and grow as a community, as a connected group of individuals in our society, and we're going to continue to show love and unity, and this week we're going to ask the fans to join in as well and come together and show people that we can be connected and we can grow together."

It's likely that all Packers players -- even the ones who sat during the anthem on Sunday -- will participate Thursday.

"I think it was Marty's [Bennett's] idea," said Kendricks, who said he sat during the anthem to bring awareness to people in Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Maria. "Aaron spoke first, and he kind of laid it out and laid out the fact that he's on our side and he understands the message being conveyed and trying to get across. And then Marty wrote a statement, and in the statement he said we're going to lock arms and he's going to challenge the fans to lock arms as well, so it kind of puts them in a position where it's like, 'Look, you're either going to unite with us or you're not.' I think that's really cool, because it puts them in a position where it's like now we're talking to you, so you make a decision, peacefully make a decision."

Rodgers called the team meeting about the strategy "fantastic."

"We kind of talked about a lot of things -- things I'm not going to talk about, because it's meant for just the locker room -- but I think there's been a great sense of unity and love and support in this locker room, guys coming together," Rodgers said. "Outside the building, I think the message has been diluted a little bit and it's been kind of taken away from what we were trying to do: show a united front, guys linking up together. There's been a lot of hatred on my social media, probably other people's social media, as well. Frankly don't understand it, a lot of it."