CLEVELAND (AP) — Kneeling and bowing their heads, the Cleveland Browns bonded over something bigger than football.
More than a dozen players huddled together on the team's bench Monday night to protest during the national anthem.
The group, which included veterans, rookies, starters and backups, gathered in front of some water coolers and behind their teammates who stood on the sideline shortly before the Browns hosted the New York Giants.
Linebackers Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey, running backs Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson and Terrance Magee, safety Jabrill Peppers, tight end Seth DeValve, wide receivers Kenny Britt and Ricardo Louis and defensive back Calvin Pryor dropped to one knee in a circle. Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, offensive tackle Shon Coleman, punter Britton Colquitt, defensive back Jason McCourty and offensive lineman Marcus Martin stood and supported their teammates by putting their hands on their shoulders.
Colquitt, one of two white players in the group, also placed a hand over his heart.
The protest was the largest so far in a movement started last season by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is currently out of the NFL. In recent days, Seattle defensive lineman Michael Bennett and Philadelphia defensive back Malcolm Jenkins also have called attention to what they feel is racial injustice in the country.
Oakland running back Marshawn Lynch also has sat during the national anthem in the preseason, but hasn't elaborated on his reasoning.
At halftime, the Browns released a statement.
"As an organization, we have a profound respect for our country's National Anthem, flag and the servicemen and servicewomen in the United States and abroad," the team said through a spokesperson. "We feel it's important for our team to join in this great tradition and special moment of recognition, at the same time we also respect the great liberties afforded by our country, including the freedom of personal expression."
Browns coach Hue Jackson drew criticism last week when he seemed to indicate he didn't want his players to protest. However, Jackson clarified his remarks to say he respected any player who wanted to demonstrate.
"The intent of my comments was not to discourage individual expression from our players in light of a cause that moves them to personal expression," Jackson said. "I'm disheartened that I gave anyone that impression because I did not speak with enough clarity. However, my words did reflect my concern — that I would express to any player — about protesting during the anthem. There are many effective ways athletes can utilize their platform if they so desire, but I would respect any individual decision, as ultimately, it would be the player's choice after much thoughtful dialogue."