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Ron Rivera: Protests during national anthem an 'individual thing'

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was born in Fort Ord, California, the son of Eugenio Rivera, who was a commissioned officer in the United States Army.

Stationed in California and subsequently other places such as Germany and Panama, Rivera grew up close to the military and has used his background to try to set an example for his players over the years. As players around the league follow San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's lead and offer silent protests of racial inequality in the U.S., Rivera is allowing his players to do what they want when it comes to the national anthem.

According to Rivera, the freedom to protest is a right that his father and many others have fought for and one Rivera understands even if he feels strongly about standing and honoring the flag during the anthem.

"I was raised on a military base so I have a different perspective," Rivera said. "I think every individual has the freedom and rights to decide and do what they want and that's the beauty of it because this is America and that's what the men and women of the armed forces fought for and in some cases they committed the ultimate sacrifice for us.

"I've got a brother who was a first responder, he's a retired San Jose police officer who served very valiantly and courageously for the city of San Jose, so I have got a tremendous amount of respect for all of that. And I think, again, it's an individual thing. What we do here is each individual has a right to do what they want to do and that's as simple as it gets. I know this: I just stand a little taller, I stand a little straighter and have got my hand on my heart and I honor the flag and the United States of America."

Kaepernick and the 49ers play at Carolina on Sunday. To this point, none of the Panthers have joined in the protest, at least not publicly. Kaepernick and safety Eric Reid knelt and linebacker Eli Harold and safety Antoine Bethea raised their right fists during the national anthem on Monday night.

Rivera said he hasn't talked to his players about his background or how he'd like them to handle the anthem. Instead, he's comfortable letting them do what they choose to do.

"I think my players know my background; I've talked enough about growing up in the military," Rivera said. "One of the charities I sponsor out here is the USO. One of the things I'm involved with is some of the things that go on with the Charlotte/Mecklenburg police department, try to support them as much as I can. I just try to lead by example and hopefully I'm setting a good example."