CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers players say that after Tuesday's meeting between the team's captains and owner Jerry Richardson they can join other NFL players in protest over the recent remarks of President Donald Trump without fear of backlash from the team owner.
Quarterback Cam Newton and five other team captains met with Richardson at his South Charlotte home because of concern over whether players could protest without repercussions from their owner.
"If I were to say certain things outside of football right now, I am pretty sure it has its benefits and backlashes,'' Newton said on Wednesday. "He is more concerned about our well-being."
Richardson, the only current owner to play in the NFL, put out a statement on Monday afternoon saying sports shouldn't be politicized. He was the next to last owner to comment on the matter after the president called out players over the weekend for kneeling during the national anthem.
The comments prompted league-wide protests from players and, in some cases, owners. Outside of 37-year-old defensive end Julius Peppers, who stayed in the locker room during the anthem before Sunday's home game against New Orleans, the Panthers did not participate in the protests.
"That's the guy who writes my checks and that's how I feed my family. But at the same time you want to be a man and you want to stand up for something. You might be a little nervous and a little scared but at the same time he basically was letting the guys know yesterday that you don't have to be."
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who wasn't a part of the meeting, said he was "scared'' to protest because he didn't know how Richardson -- also known as "Big Cat'' -- would take it.
"I know that I was like, 'Man, if I do sit down or if I do kneel or hold up a fist or stay in the locker room, I don't know how it would look to Big Cat," Munnerlyn said. "You don't want to try to put that bad taste in people's mouths. You don't know where he stands on that situation so you just try to fall back and -- this is my job.
"That's the guy who writes my checks and that's how I feed my family. But at the same time you want to be a man and you want to stand up for something. You might be a little nervous and a little scared, but at the same time he basically was letting the guys know yesterday that you don't have to be. I'm behind you. If you decide to do this, I'm behind you."
Coach Ron Rivera said the captains' meeting with Richardson was important for the team to move forward.
"For almost a season-and-a-half, people have talked about kneeling down,'' Rivera said, referring to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first kneeling during the anthem last season to protest bigotry and social injustice in the country. "Now let's start talking about what the solution is, how we can do things as an organization, how we can start doing things as a community to start bringing closure to this and start showing we are truly working in the direction to correct those things everybody was protesting against.
"The time for doing is now. ... So my next question I hope is about the Patriots.''
Newton spoke for more than 19 minutes on the meeting with Richardson and his views on the protests. He wasn't asked one question about Sunday's game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
The 2015 NFL MVP said the meeting with Richardson was important, to ensure players understood their owner supported them. He also said it was important not to forget Kaepernick, who remains unemployed.
"He's made the ultimate sacrifice and I respect that wholeheartedly,'' Newton said. "I can't let a moment go by without shedding light to that. A person that does have the talent to play, a person that should be in this league, but I feel as if he's not getting his just due because of his views.
"That's a lesson right there. For him to think outside of himself, to raise awareness of something that we're still -- this is 365 days removed from his first stand and now here we are still doing the same things. Now everyone is understanding what his reasoning was. And I respect that.''
Munnerlyn, outspoken on the issue while many players remained quiet, said the window might have closed for the Panthers (2-1) to participate in any kind of protest moving forward. Newton disagreed, saying he might have done something on Sunday if he'd had time to digest all that was going on outside of football.
"The message is unity for me: black, white, different minorities around America,'' Newton said. "That's my message. I want everybody to come together. We get nowhere separated. People feeling oppressed and people that are rich looking down on other people, you don't get nowhere with that. We all are created equal.
"We need to find some kind of way to come together to make the situation better. Because where we're going now, it's not healthy at all.''