Number of NFL players protesting drops by considerable margin in Week 4

After nearly 200 players knelt during the national anthem in Week 3, far fewer plays chose to kneel during the anthem this past Sunday. 

According to ESPN.com, there were only a total of 52 players who knelt to protest racial injustice during the national anthem this week after roughly 180 players knelt in Week 3. The Week 3 protests came just days after Donald Trump ripped the NFL during a rally in Alabama

Back on Sept. 22, Trump called on all NFL owners to "fire" all protesting players . The president also referred to the protesting players as "sons of b------."

The NFL's 32 teams responded by holding the largest protest to date. However, just 10 days after Trump's comments, most teams decided to pivot away from their Week 3 protest. The Saints and Ravens were among the teams that knelt before the national anthem but actually stood while the anthem was playing.

In Detroit, Lions owner Martha Ford said that she would financially support their social causes if they refused to kneel during the national anthem. With owners like Ford encouraging their players to stand, the number of players protesting during the anthem took a considerable hit in Week 4. 

The 52 players who decided to kneel came from just seven teams, with 30 of the players coming from the 49ers, nine players coming from the Seahawks, six players coming from the Bills, three players coming from the Dolphins, two players coming from the Lions and one player each coming from the Raiders and Giants

The 49ers, who made up the largest protest of Week 4, knelt before the national anthem in Arizona. 

The fact that the protests took a hit in Week 4 probably wasn't a surprise to DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA's executive director. This past week, Smith basically accused the NFL's ownership of using the protest as a bargaining chip with the players

"It was offensive to me because, historically, there was always a question of, 'What is it going to take in order for us to buy your voice of protest?' The problem with that is, No. 1, it assumes we are doing this because we want something from the owners," Smith told ESPN.com. "And second, it's clear that once you commoditize a freedom, like the right to free speech, once you've sold it, you can never use it again."

In a meeting of NFL owners last week, Jerry Jones reportedly wanted to try and figure out how to stop the protest while also catering to the social change that the players are hoping to see. 

 "How do we address the root issue for the players on this?" Jones said, via ESPN. "In the long run, it's not good to kneel. People don't want football to be politicized, but there's a need to do something to listen to our players and help them."

The issue is a divisive one, and as the Ravens proved on Sunday, there's no easy answer. In Baltimore, the Ravens decided they were going to stand for the national anthem this week, but that they were going to kneel beforehand and say a prayer. Even that decision wasn't popular as thousands of fans in Baltimore booed their own team

One of the 52 players who did decide to protest on Sunday was Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, and while he didn't hear any boos, that's mostly because no at Sports Authority Field could see him. 

Although Lynch doesn't talk a lot to the media, he does have a voice that he's not afraid to use, and he silently used it on Sunday when he arrived in Denver.  On his way to the stadium Lynch wore a shirt that said "Everybody vs. Trump."

You can read more about how every NFL team has handled protesting before games here.

CBS Sports Writer

John Breech has been at CBS Sports since July 2011 and currently spends most of his time writing about the NFL. He's believed to be one of only three people in the world who thinks that Andy Dalton will... Full Bio

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