ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy publicly responded for the first time Wednesday to Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly's sharp criticism this week of McCoy's protest during Sunday's national anthem.
"Like I texted him, he said some things to the media that he probably could have said to me," McCoy said. "But his opinion, it really doesn't matter to me. I like Jim Kelly. He texts me and I just told him, 'Hey, you're human.' People have their own opinions. What you said, you don't have to apologize for it. I don't think you're wrong. That's how he felt. I understand. You're human and I told him exactly, 'My respect for you, it hasn't changed. It's still very high.' He's a hell of a player and I respected him when I met him, and even the relationship I have so far. So it didn't affect me at all."
McCoy was one of about a dozen Bills players to kneel during the national anthem before the Bills' win over the Denver Broncos. In addition to kneeling, McCoy also stretched his legs during the song, drawing Kelly's ire in a radio interview Monday.
"I like LeSean McCoy. Don't get me wrong. But I totally, 100 percent -- I disagree with what he did," Kelly told 97 Rock in Buffalo, New York. "You want to kneel? Fine. But when you go and do what he did yesterday, that sort of bummed me out. And I lost a lot of respect for him. ... You want to kneel? That's your prerogative. I would never do that. I will always stand, thank the good Lord for everything I got. But when you disrespect the way he did and just go by his everyday duty in the national anthem being sung? Uh-uh. I won't go for that."
McCoy said Wednesday that he does not regret the manner in which he protested the anthem, explaining that he felt strongly about President Donald Trump's comments last Friday that players who kneel during the national anthem should be "fired."
"I was extremely hurt, to be honest," McCoy said. "Because at first, everybody has their own opinions, like I talked about. People believe in different things; they stand up for what they want to stand up for, that's their right. And some of the words that the President used, it just rubbed me the wrong way. I was upset and I was frustrated. That's the way I wanted to express myself at the game. I took a knee. I started stretching. I was angry. I was hurt, just like I said after the game. Somebody like our president, being our leader of this country, where millions and millions and millions of people look at America and see the type of words and things he's saying about us. I mean, it just got to me. It really did."
At least two Bills players, cornerback Shareece Wright and wide receiver Kaelin Clay, told ESPN on Wednesday they will continue to kneel during the national anthem this Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Three players -- linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, as well as defensive ends Ryan Davis and Shaq Lawson -- told ESPN they will stand Sunday, although Davis said he will neither put his hand over his heart nor sing the anthem. Other players, including McCoy and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, were undecided Wednesday about their plans.
"Every week may be different," McCoy said Wednesday. "Because at the end of the day, man, we play football. We're a football team. We talk about being together as a country. It's the same thing as this team. We want to be together. It's OK to express your feelings a different way. But I don't want to make it where every week we're addressing this, every practice we're addressing this, taking away from our job. Because on that field, man, it's go. Them guys on defense are trying to hit us hard and trying to be physical with us. So we want to make sure that we're mentally focused on the job at hand. And we play together, and we're focused."
McCoy said his teammates have been talking more about football during meetings this week compared to last Saturday, when the locker room was "amazed" at Trump's comments about NFL players.
However, on Monday, defensive end Jerry Hughes delivered a passionate rebuke of Kelly's reaction to the Bills' anthem protests.
"I was very disappointed in him," Hughes said of Kelly. "I was very disappointed in how he approached the whole situation. Our team came together and we united as a front, as an organization on how we were going to approach the national anthem. If Jim was going to do what he did, then he should have came to the team and let us know his feelings. He should have let us know how he was going to do the national anthem. Because we didn't know he was going to be there from a team perspective."
Alexander said he heard Hughes' comments and agrees with him.
"Jim Kelly is very respected in this organization, in this community, everything he's done on and off the field -- but he's part of the Bills, so would love for him to come talk to us more as a mentor versus kind of blasting us in the media. But I know he since then has called a couple of guys and has kind of backed off, because he was unaware of what President Trump's comments were. So in the heat of the moment, everybody makes mistakes," he said.
Kelly later tempered his criticism in a statement to The Associated Press on Monday night, writing, "I want to be clear that I agree with the reason some NFL players have chosen to peacefully protest, and appreciate players, coaches and organizations being unified." The former quarterback has spoken with Hughes this week in addition to McCoy and other Bills players.