Cleveland Browns tight end Seth DeValve became the first white NFL player to kneel during the playing of the national anthem in a group protest by team-mates before a pre-season game against the New York Giants.
DeValve joined around a dozen Browns players in taking a knee to pray during the playing of the Stars and Stripes before Monday's game, mirroring the protest started by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last year and since emulated by various players across the league.
DeValve, whose wife is African-American, said he had decided to join the protest following the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where neo-Nazis and white supremacists clashed with counter protestors.
"I myself will be raising children that don't look like me, and I want to do my part as well to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now," DeValve said.
"So I wanted to take the opportunity with my teammates during the anthem to pray for our country and also to draw attention to the fact that we have work to do," the 24-year-old added.
Monday's protest by Browns players was the largest such demonstration since Kaepernick first decided not to stand for the anthem just over a year ago.
Last week, Seattle Seahawks star Michael Bennett, who has also protested the anthem, said he believed more white players joining the protests would boost the cause.
Since Bennett's remarks, Philadelphia's Chris Long and Seattle's Justin Britt both symbolically joined protests by holding on to the shoulders of their teammates.
"The United States is the greatest country in the world," DeValve said.
"It is because it provides opportunities to its citizens that no other country does.
"The issue is that it doesn't provide equal opportunity to everybody. And I wanted to support my African-American teammates today who wanted to take a knee. We wanted to draw attention to the fact that there's things in this country that still need to change."
Browns coach Hue Jackson said Monday the protest had the support of team management.
"We respect our players; we respect the flag," Jackson said. "Those guys came to me and talked to me about it before they ever made a decision to do it."
The Browns later released a statement during halftime.
"As an organization, we have a profound respect for our country's National Anthem, flag and the servicemen and servicewomen in the United States and abroad," the statement read.
"We feel it's important for our team to join in this great tradition and special moment of recognition, at the same time we also respect the great liberties afforded by our country, including the freedom of personal expression."
© 2017 AFP