DAVIE, Fla. -- As the number of NFL players protesting social injustice and police brutality during the anthem decreases, Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills says his protests and commitment to the cause won't ever change.
"We started the protest two years ago now -- three years ago now -- and we're not going anywhere," Stills said, referring to himself along with former San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid. "It's not going to change. Activism isn't something you just kind of get involved in and then turn your back on it. Once your eyes are open to some of the things that are happening, you continue to work and try and grow and create change for the rest of your life, so this is something I'm committed to forever.
"It's not about being the face or who gets the notoriety for it. It's just what I care about outside of work and what I spend my time doing when I'm not here working for the Dolphins."
Stills started to kneel at the start of the 2016 season, using the national anthem as the vehicle for his protest, shortly after Kaepernick began to kneel. Dozens of NFL players protested during the anthem last season, but in Week 1 there were only three: Stills, Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson and Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch (who sat during the anthem).
"Obviously I would be encouraged to see more guys participating in the protest but I understand that everybody makes their own decision," Stills said. "It's never been about what other guys are doing. I understand my position and what I'm standing for, what I'm standing up for, and I'll continue to do that."
Stills brushed off a retweet by President Donald Trump criticizing his protest.
"I don't think that's something I really worry about," Stills said.
He saw a tweet U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio sent in support of his community service in Miami, and mentioned that the two have had conversations about his protest previously.
Stills was named team captain by coach Adam Gase for the 2018 season, and Gase has consistently praised his leadership in the locker room and work in the community. Stills won the Dolphins' community service award for the past two seasons, and he's been active in reaching out to police, military and kids in the South Florida area in hopes of bettering his community.
On Tuesday (the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks), Stills, Wilson and Dolphins cheerleaders went to the Miami VA Healthcare System and West Palm Beach VA Medical Center to spend time with sick South Florida veterans and honor those who fought for America. Doctors and nurses mentioned that it was the first time they've seen some of these patients smile, a revelation that Stills called "heartwarming."
"There were a couple of instances of people being very thankful and encouraging me to continue to protest. Then there were also people who I think were a little bit more afraid to say it in front of some of the cameras and people that were around," Stills said. "There was no negativity or anything like that felt in there."
A lot of the divisiveness over the protest has revolved around the military and the flag. Stills said some of the veterans recognized him and gave him their thoughts on his protest.
"It is important to see and know that veterans understand what we're doing and why we're doing it," Stills said. "And know that we're not against them and it's never been about them. I think that's really important and it means a lot to us."