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Raiders Malcolm Smith, Bruce Irvin join raised-fist national-anthem protest

Raiders linebacker Malcolm Smith raises his fist during the national anthem prior to the game in Tennessee. AP Photo/Mark Zaleski

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Oakland Raiders linebackers Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith raised their right fists to join the growing protest against social injustice during the national anthem prior to their 17-10 victory at the Tennessee Titans.

And while Smith said he did not initially plan on raising his fist and Irvin was not available for comment, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said he wished the players had let him know beforehand.

“We thought about it, but are you ready to take a stance on something where you’re going to get a lot of backlash, obviously?” Smith said after the game. “There’s people that are going to feel a certain way, which I don’t understand, but at the same time, you’ve got to be ready for that. And I’m sure [Del Rio] wishes that we would have kind of talked to him about it.

“I didn’t know I was going to do it. I wasn’t planning on it until in the moment.”

Both Irvin and Smith formerly played for the Seattle Seahawks, who have staged team-wide demonstrations.

The movement began with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sitting during the anthem in the NFL preseason before taking a knee and has spread to different teams since. It is the first time a Raiders player has participated.

During the preseason, Del Rio said the Raiders respected Kaepernick’s right to protest but that his team would remain standing for the anthem, saying the organization has always been at the forefront of social movements and civil-rights issues.

He echoed those feelings Sunday when asked about having two players raising a fist during the anthem.

“No thoughts on that, other than I would have hoped … that it would have been brought up ahead of time so that we could be all involved in one thing or another,” Del Rio said. “Like I said earlier when this whole thing started, I respect everybody’s opinion to express themselves. That’s what we have as Americans, that right, OK? I would just like to see us as a team do things together, united.

“I also deeply respect our flag and the people who have sacrificed for our country to make it what it is, an awesome place. We get to enjoy things like football on Sunday. So, that’s how I feel.”

Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece, who is eligible to return from suspension this week, also addressed the issue to ESPN.com during camp.

“Being a black male, a lot of things can upset you and frustrate you by the things that are going on in society,” Reece said. “And to be honest, a lot of things aren’t new. But at the same time, I think you have to have a balance between what you’re representing and what you’re choosing not to respect.

“You can’t fault an entire country and an entire flag for everything this nation stands for because of a few bad, ignorant people. Acts of ignorance don’t represent this country but all the people that fight for this country, for the freedom of this country, that’s what this country is all about.”

Smith said he talked with Del Rio after the game.

“I wish I would have given him a warning,” Smith said. “But at the same time, it just kind of came over me. I didn’t have a chance to. He’s supportive, man.”