Tennessee Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews was one of many NFL players who felt personally attacked by President Donald Trump's comments over the weekend against the NFL and its protesting players, most notably the "son of a bitch" reference, and Matthews plans to use his platform to advance the protest.
"I plan to kneel until the president apologizes for the comments that he made, because I felt like those were very disrespectful comments that he made," Matthews said on ESPN's NFL Live on Tuesday. "The league is made up of, I think, ... over 70 percent African-Americans, so the people that would be kneeling for this cause would be African-Americans.
"To keep it honest, he was calling a lot of us, and I feel that he was calling myself, an S.O.B., and that's not OK and very disrespectful. So I plan to kneel until the president apologizes."
Free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the pregame national anthem last season, when he was a member of the San Francisco 49ers, as a way of protesting social inequality. Other players have decided to kneel or sit during the anthem over the course of the past year.
Speaking at a political rally in Alabama on Friday night, Trump said, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He's fired! He's fired!'
At the White House on Tuesday, Trump was asked about his comments.
"I wasn't preoccupied with the NFL. I was ashamed of what was taking place," he said. "Because to me that was a very important moment. I don't think you can disrespect our country, our flag, our national anthem."
Matthews' father served in the military for 23 years. Matthews' brother was a Marine who died in Afghanistan. So Matthews felt conflicted by the use of the anthem as a vehicle for the protest, but he said Sunday night that his stance shifted as it became more apparent to him that this message was more important than the method.
"I'm tired of hearing, 'Stick to sports.' It comes down to right and wrong in this world," he said Sunday. "If you see wrong and don't say anything, that's wrong. As minorities, what do you want to happen before we say anything? They tried to have a silent protest, and look what happened. It's your right to stand or sit down. You have that right, that freedom of speech, and you're not allowing that to happen.
"We're not ragdogs. We're people just like you."
Matthews said players can be pro-military while still using their platforms to protest social issues during the anthem. He is challenging those who criticize the protests to understand that.
After Sunday's game, Matthews said he would have knelt during the anthem if the Titans had not remained in the locker room during the song. The Titans' leadership council, through joint communication via group text with Seattle Seahawks leadership, decided remaining inside during the anthem was the best method toward unity. The Titans and Seahawks organizations supported their decisions.
Kaepernick began this stance over a year ago, but protest by NFL players reached a peak Sunday. Matthews hopes this isn't a one-week deal across the NFL.
"Moving forward, I don't want this to be a publicity stunt," Matthews said. "I don't want to take away from what the whole protest is about, which is oppression, police brutality and inequality in this country. I fully stand with my brother Kaep, and I plan to continue to do that."
Matthews raised a right fist, which has been recognized as a symbol for solidarity against racial injustice, after his 55-yard touchdown against the Seahawks. Before the game, Matthews wore cleats that read "we are one" and "we all bleed the same."