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ORCHARD PARK, NY – In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s profanity-laced tirade at an Alabam rally on Friday, football almost became secondary to politics during Week 3 of the NFL season. In his rant, Trump spoke out against NFL players choosing to kneel for the national anthem in an effort to protest racial injustice.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired!’ the Commander-and-Chief asserted Friday.

The demonstrative message brought sports and politics uncomfortably together and rallied NFL players like never before, as teams across the league executed their own peaceful demonstrations during the national anthem.

For the Buffalo Bills – who gathered as a team on Saturday night to discuss the president’s comments, share their feelings and decide on what method of protest they’d take – that meant lining up for the anthem on the field, and either kneeling or standing arm-in-arm with their teammates. The message they hoped to send was one of unity, respect and love.

“We had a conversation last night, it was a voluntary meeting,” Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. “Mrs. and Mr. Pegula were there. Our GM Brandon Beane, Coach McDermott, our captains and a couple of players. It was an open dialogue and I think it was good.”

“Of course we’re not going to solve everything in one night. The meeting went on for about an hour. The main thing we came out with was this organization ultimately believes in love and equality for all people. Individuals felt the need to kneel, some people stood. We respect each and everyone’s decision. I think the main thing is we were all on the same page in doing so.”

The fact that Kim and Terry Pegula were present at that meeting was perhaps surprising, considering they generally do their best to stay out of sight and out of mind, but powerful. And it didn’t stop at simply attending the forum, as they came to the defense of their players in a statement on Saturday night.

It read:

Several of us met tonight – players, coaches, staff, and ownership. Our goal was to provide open dialogue and communication. We listened to one another. We believe it’s the best way to work through any issue we are facing – on and off the field.

President Trump’s remarks were divisive and disrespectful to the entire NFL community, but we tried to use them as an opportunity to further unify our team and our organization.

Our players have the freedom to express themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner and we all agreed that our sole message is to provide and to promote an environment that is focused on love and equality.

Bills players opened up about the meeting following the Bills 26-16 win over the Broncos on Sunday, and expressed great appreciation for the Pegula’s support during this tumultuous time.

“Our owners supported us, they support the team they support the community. That’s what we embody here in Buffalo,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said. Adding that their attendance at the meeting added to the team’s sense of unity the team felt.

“What I really appreciated was the owners being in that room,” veteran linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “The GM being there and supporting us. Terry Pegula–he grew up poor and he hasn’t forgotten where he has come from. He did a great job as far as to relating with us and allowing us to use our platform and really his organization to stand on and make a statement. A lot of respect for him. A lot of owners didn’t have to do that or didn’t do that. Everybody felt like something needed to be done and whether some guys would kneel, we would all be together. That was the key. We had different opinions that come from different backgrounds. However, at the end of the day respect one another.”

Alexander didn’t stop there, sounding off on the racial tone of the president’s controversial comments.

“I mean the majority of this league is African American. Then to make it personal, like I took a knee today does that mean I’m an SOB now? Is my mom a B? Everybody that knows my mom knows no. I think people that have a platform and are making a lot of a huge voice and if I see something going on that’s what it is all about. Stepping up for those guys that don’t have a voice and that’s what guys are doing around the league. Either you understand or you don’t. I’m not here to change everybody’s mind. I’m going to do what I think is right and I think today was a perfect example of that.”

 

Meanwhile, Hughes took a more direct shot at the president himself, not just his hurtful words.

“To say those things and as disturbing as that is, that’s not what our leader is supposed to do,” he pleaded. “Our leader, the leader of our country is supposed to be bringing everyone together. No matter race, no matter nationality, no matter religion. We’re here in this country as free people and we’re all here to be Americans. So for 45 to try to divide the nation like that, it’s sad. But at the end of the day, I kind of expect that from our president.”

Running back LeSean McCoy had one of the more controversial anthem demonstrations of the day, sitting, then stretching while the hymn echoed inside the walls of New Era Field. McCoy was pretty clear about his feelings on the president in a tweet on Saturday, calling No. 45 an a-hole. He didn’t have to limit himself to 140 characters when he expounded on his feelings after the win.

“As a president you’re supposed to lead us, you’re supposed to bring us together,” McCoy stated. “You know, you’re supposed to lead this country. I can’t stand and support something where our leader of this country is acting like a jerk, angry and upset about NFL players protesting in a peaceful manner.

“You know, so that really bothered me. I think us as a group, as a team, we want to display that. We come together as a team and show to the world that no matter how different each other person are, we can come together. It’s as simple as that.”

Talk of togetherness is nothing foreign within the Bills locker room. As right tackle Jordan Mille pointed out, the concepts they rallied around – unity, respect and love – are the three pillars on which head coach Sean McDermott is building this team.

“That’s been the standard – togetherness and love and unity – since we got here,” Mills said. “It’s not about one guy it’s about everybody, it’s about one another. That’s something [coach McDermott] has been preaching since we walked in the doors in April and up till now it’s going to continue.”

After having a major hand in the Bills Week 3 win by nailing four field goals, including two from 53-plus yards, kicker Stephen Hauschka summed up an emotional and powerful weekend best.

“I think we will be better from this. Coach [McDermott] eluded to this, there is times throughout the season where teams are challenged, and the challenges might be different every year, but there’s times when teams are able to respond in a positive way, and come together closer, or they can separate and pull apart. I think this is a great example of Coach McDermott keeping guys together, and keeping guys unified, regardless of our opinions. I think we have a really tight-knit group here in this locker room, and I’m proud to be a Buffalo Bill”

Whether or not the Bills continue making their statement beyond this past weekend remains to be seen. Regardless, there’s no denying that Trump’s divisive comments have unified this Bills roster and all 32 NFL rosters, like never before.

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