Miami Dolphins, discontent with 'empty gestures,' to stay inside during both anthems

J-Will explains the Dolphins choice to remain in the locker room (2:50)

The Dolphins players have announced the decision to stay in the locker room for the playing of both the national anthem and "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Jason Williams speaks to the reason. (2:50)

The Miami Dolphins have decided to stay inside during both "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "Lift Ev'ry Voice And Sing" during the 2020 NFL season, issuing a message Thursday demanding action rather than symbolic gestures in the fight against social and racial injustice and police brutality.

"Lift Ev'ry Voice And Sing," traditionally known as the Black national anthem, is expected to be performed live or played before every Week 1 NFL game, among other measures by the league to recognize victims of police brutality, a source familiar with the league's discussions previously told The Undefeated.

"This attempt to unify only creates more divide. So we'll skip this song and dance, and as a team we'll stay inside," several Dolphins players combined to say in a 2-minute, 17-second video issued Thursday. "We need changed hearts, not just a response to pressure. Enough, no more fluff and empty gestures. We need owners with influence and pockets bigger than ours to call up officials and flex political power."

In the video, 18 Dolphins players -- both Black and white -- proclaim they are fed up with "empty gestures" being the result of the current movement for change, and demand that team owners get actively involved in creating political and legislative change. They also speak out about a need for prison reform, justice against police brutality, and an acknowledgment of "millions for pregame patriotism," which references the NFL receiving at least $5 million from the U.S. military for halftime salutes to soldiers the past decade.

The Dolphins are the first team to collectively make a statement regarding protest during the national anthem this season. Players involved in the video are: defensive linemen Christian Wilkins, Davon Godchaux and Shaq Lawson, offensive linemen Ted Karras and Jesse Davis, linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, safeties Bobby McCain, Eric Rowe and Kavon Frazier, cornerbacks Byron Jones and Jamal Perry, tight ends Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe, wide receivers Preston Williams and Isaiah Ford, and running backs Matt Breida and Patrick Laird.

Their overwhelming message is dissatisfaction with the current state of America, and particularly how it treats Black people. They said they hope to shift the conversation away from the national anthem to meaningful change.

"We don't need another publicity parade," McCain says. "If you speak up for change, I'll shut up and play."

Adds Roberts: "So if my dad was a soldier but the cops killed my brother, do I stand for one anthem and kneel for the other?"

At the end of the video, Dolphins coach Brian Flores appears supporting his players and providing a message: "Before the media starts wondering and guessing, they just answered all your questions. We'll just stay inside."

Flores emphasized that it was a "player-driven" video, but he joined them in it because he was supportive of the message.

"The message is to create unity, not divide," Flores said Friday. "That's partly why they wanted to do it. Specific to our locker room, I think we're all on the same page. I hope it's that way."

Flores said Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was supportive of the video.

"I talked to Steve about the video. He was supportive," Flores said. "It was directed at everyone [in the NFL]. I think every individual in this country can do a little bit better -- players, coaches, owners, media. That was the message. To try to misconstrue the message or take it in some different light, that's wasn't what the message was supposed to be.

"We can all do better. We all need to do better. What's happening in this country -- and really around the world -- [is] we need change. It's something we've been saying for a long time. The video speaks for itself from that standpoint. From a message standpoint, it's that we can all do better."

The next focus, with NFL play beginning this week, is to avoid the movement dissipating amid the distraction that is football. Players hope to continue putting pressure on the league and ownership to be active in real change.

"We can talk about doing things, but we have to back it up with some action," Flores said. "[The players] know that. They understand that."

The Dolphins' social impact committee, in conjunction with the Miami Dolphins Foundation and an NFL Foundation social justice grant, on Friday pledged to donate $100,000 to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Fines and Fees program, which assists returning citizens who have outstanding fees to complete their sentences and become eligible to vote. The donation will specifically impact hundreds of Miami-area people with past convictions.

The Dolphins also launched a food relief program this summer with Ross and the Miami Dolphins Foundation, committing $2 million to provide 1,000 meals daily to those in need in Miami Gardens and surrounding areas over the next year. This week, they announced at least $1 million will go to support minority-owned local restaurants.

Dolphins players have been at the forefront of the athlete activism movement in the past, with former players Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas, Arian Foster and Jelani Jenkins among the first players to follow Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem to bring attention to social and racial injustice and police brutality in 2016.