ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The sight of defensive end Chris Long putting his arm around Eagles teammate Malcolm Jenkins during the national anthem inspired Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Cameron Jefferson to make his own statement.
Jefferson raised his fist in what he called a silent, peaceful gesture protesting racial inequality before the Bills’ preseason game at Philadelphia on Thursday night.
“It gave me some courage,” Jefferson said Sunday, referring to seeing Long support Jenkins, who stood with a raised fist. “Just seeing that togetherness on their team between different races, different people, I felt like that’s all I wanted. I wanted togetherness to build awareness for that.”
It hit home for Jefferson because he and Jenkins are both members of Omega Psi Phi, a predominantly black fraternity founded at Howard University in 1911. Racial tensions spiked last week after a woman was killed during a white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“It was important to me because I felt in my spirit, in my heart, that I had to take a stand for myself,” the 25-year-old Jefferson said. “I did it peacefully. I did it quietly. I didn’t want to be a distraction to the team.”
Bills coach Sean McDermott backed Jefferson after meeting with the player on Saturday and brought up what happened to his entire team before practice the next day.
“I think the key word here is respect. We respect Cam’s opinion. We respect and acknowledge what’s going on,” McDermott said. “When a player or anyone in this case takes an initiative to make a stand for something, if it’s ethical, I want them to know that I’m going to support them and we’re going to support them.”
Jefferson appreciated McDermott’s support and acknowledged he was concerned about possible ramifications, given he has no NFL experience and is competing to simply make the team.
He intends to raise his fist during the national anthem again on Saturday, when Buffalo travels to play Baltimore.
Jefferson is not surprised by the mixed response his gesture has received on social media.
“You have to take it with a grain of salt with the bad, because there’s good and evil in this world,” Jefferson said. “It’s good to see people who are supportive. At the same time, we’re raising awareness for those who are on the neutral side of things and people on the negative side of things.”
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