By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – Late Saturday night in his downtown hotel, Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan sat in isolation and reflected. He felt anger toward President Donald Trump, who condemned player protests in the NFL with harsh words at an Alabama rally the night before.
Trevathan reflected on the long, important discussions ever present with Bears teammates all Saturday and how team chairman George McCaskey came down to make sure they felt his support. After cherished time together as a team, Trevathan returned himself to blissful isolation where he could be alone in thought.
“How do I want to be defined?” Trevathan asked himself. “How do the ’17 Bears want to be defined? How do we want to be defined as men – not as individuals, as men. As each person in this position … How do we stand as a team?”
Two days after Trump referred to players protesting by kneeling during national anthem as “Sons of b—–,” the Bears stood together for the national anthem with their arms locked together as a sign of solidarity. Trevathan was one of the leaders behind that movement.
The east sideline at Soldier Field was mostly unoccupied, with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and several team staffers standing alone. Pittsburgh remained in the tunnel with only offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva standing outside with his hand over heart. Villanueva served in the Army before reaching the NFL. The Steelers then ran onto Soldier Field with loud boos greeting them as the American flag was furled.
Emotions were riding high before the Bears’ wild 23-17 overtime win at Soldier Field. A game that ended with the Bears celebrating Jordan Howard’s 19-yard touchdown began with them linked together as one.
Bears coach John Fox was fully supportive of the display shown by his team. His stepfather, Ron, was a Navy SEAL and Fox was raised in San Diego, which boasts a large military community. Fox and his team made it known they respect the country, its flag and anthem. But the remarks from Trump were personal.
“We felt, as a team, that it was divisive and disrespectful,” Fox said. “What we’re all about is being united and together.”
Bears guard Kyle Long, a prominent figure in the locker room, conveyed the same sentiments as Fox.
“We have guys who are open about how they feel, and we have guys who are respectful about other people’s opinions,” Long said. “Today, it showed we’re a unit and a cohesive unit. That’s what we wanted to convey today. We didn’t want to show any disrespect to the military, the flag. But there are obviously issues going on in our country. I think we did the right thing today. Moving forward, just trying to make this place a better world to live in.”
Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks can relate to Fox, Trevathan and many others in his locker room, with family members with a military background. He estimates his family has nearly 40 years of service combined.
“The comments that were made about NFL players and the ownership, it was an attempt to divide us,” Hicks said of Trump’s remarks. “That’s what it really felt like. And to tell us that we don’t have the freedom to speak and to stand on whatever platform that we feel like and voice our opinions. We have great respect for our country, great respect for the flag, great respect for the anthem. We also want to show that we’re unified. And I think that was the best way to show that. We hold all those things dear, and we are American citizens.
“The anthem has always been something that I hold dear and I was proud to stand for it and hold my hand across my heart. To see that we’re in a place in this country where people are attempting to divide us even further than we already are, it’s sad.”
McCaskey visiting with the team isn’t an ordinary occurrence on a Saturday night before a game, but these were circumstances were about more than football in the Bears’ mind. Players were upset by what they heard from Trump. No Bears players had protested during the anthem since former 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick first took a knee during a preseason game in 2016.
Kaepernick wasn’t on an NFL roster Sunday afternoon, but his movement was ever present. For the first time, the Bears were active in it.
Veteran cornerback Prince Amukamara spent Saturday texting with former teammates across the league – a Bear texting a Packer to unite and express disappointment. They went back and forth with messages asking each other how to respond.
Amukamara described his initial reaction to Trump’s remarks as “irate and livid.” But he and Bears teammates thought over what would be the most constructive action.
As he said, “How are we going to educate and impact our communities?”
The movement began with Kaepernick taking a knee to raise awareness for police brutality against African-Americans. He was the lone man initially, bringing awareness to issues that blacks face in America. It was deemed controversial by segments of football fans across the nation, and the movement has grown larger and more powerful, with at least 130 players protesting Sunday across the NFL.
When Trump used the topic to draw cheers at a rally, players felt it was an attempt to divide them.
They demonstrated together, refusing to let that happen.
“No divisive rhetoric will stop us from being who we are — together,” Hicks said.