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Eagles fans, protesters clash over national anthem debate

President Trump's remarks get a mixed reaction outside Lincoln Financial Field before Sunday's Eagles-Giants game.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie stands with Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham (55) and strong safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) during the national anthem before the Eagles play the New York Giants on Sunday, September 24, 2017.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie stands with Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham (55) and strong safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) during the national anthem before the Eagles play the New York Giants on Sunday, September 24, 2017.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

At a typical Eagles home opener, fans debate about the team and the season ahead, with the dominant question: Will this finally be the year? On Sunday, the talk at the Linc — from tailgates to the seats — was politics, too.

Thank President Trump.

He tweeted Sunday morning that NFL fans should boycott games until players "stop disrespecting our Flag & Country," echoing his remarks from an Alabama rally that NFL owners should demand for players who protest or don't stand during the national anthem: " 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now.' "

Further, he said that such an athlete should be fired.

Trump's opinions were on the minds of Eagles fans, whose reactions ranged from support of players' protests to questions over whether a football game is the right place to take a stand against racial injustices.

The debate reached a boiling point half an hour before the game as about 20 protesters marched toward Lincoln Financial Field, chanting, "Take a knee." Some fans gave the protesters high fives, but others responded angrily.

"Put those … signs down. USA," one fan yelled at the protesters.

"I hate you! American made," another said.

"It's all right. I love them — that's our message," Eugene Sheppard, 35, who organized the protest as part of a Facebook group called "Standing 4 Kaepernick," said about the fans who responded angrily. Sheppard, who is black, came up from Maryland and brought his 4-year-old son, Davis. "We want to be loved, as well. We're not second-class citizens."

Aside from the protest, the scene outside the Linc on Sunday was generally calm (at least by football tailgating standards).

During the anthem, almost all of the Eagles, including owner Jeffrey Lurie, locked arms. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks exited the locker room late and did not lock arms with his teammates. Safety Malcolm Jenkins and wide receivers Torrey Smith and Marcus Johnson raised their fists during the anthem. The New York Giants also locked arms, and three took a knee.

We asked Eagles fans whether they think players should be able to protest during the national anthem. Here's what they said:

"This is America. And you can basically do what you want to do," said Robert Lee Davis, 48, of Baltimore.

"I want them to stand," but, "I don't like [Trump's] attitude … they should all take a knee today," said Fred Behr, 82, a Korean War veteran from Philadelphia.

"They have the right to protest peacefully," said Alexis Lee, 39, of Washington.

"Black people, just like me, are still judged by the color of our skin," said Shelton Lee, 36, of Washington, at the game with his wife, Alexis.

Joe Rineer, 38, an Eagles fan from Delaware, said: "I think it's a good cause, but the wrong venue."

Kate Hayes, 42, of Philadelphia, called Trump's call to boycott games "completely ridiculous. He should focus on something more important."

Through a statement Saturday, Lurie responded to Trump's criticism of Colin Kaepernick and the protests of racial inequality he and fellow NFL players — including the Eagles' Jenkins — have conducted during the national anthem.

"Every day I see the genuine dedication and hard work of our players. And I support them as they take their courage, character, and commitment into our communities to make them better or to call attention to injustice. Having spoken with our players, I can attest to the great respect they have for the national anthem and all it represents. We at the Philadelphia Eagles firmly believe that in this difficult time of division and conflict, it is more important than ever for football to be a great unifier."

Smith and Jenkins, who does not take a knee but instead raises his right fist, were part of a four-man group of NFL players who endorsed a memo sent to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell advocating for the league to support their pursuit of racial equality and criminal-justice reform.

Trump's criticism of protesting players also drew rebukes from another crowd in Philadelphia on Sunday — those gathered for the Puerto Rican Day parade.

City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said Trump's comments were "totally disrespectful and it's not reflective of being the president of the United States."

Parade spectator Josue Garcia, who was there with his 3-year-old son, Joshua, said he thought Trump's comments were out of place.

"He has more important things to worry about, and, unfortunately, that hasn't been going on," Garcia said, adding that players should have the right to protest without fear of losing their jobs. "I don't think he should be telling companies what to do with their employees."

Staff writer Claudia Vargas contributed to this article.