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Taking a knee: Local fans applaud, jeer after day of NFL civil disobedience

Buffalo Bills players take a knee during the playing of the national anthem prior to an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Sunday night, as the anthem played, our team did not stand.

The Oakland Raiders sat, which on Monday morning did not sit well with U.S. Navy veteran Aaron Spencer.

“I fought for this country. I sacrificed 11 years and I love this country,” Spencer said.

I met spencer at one of the best-known soul food restaurants in the city.

“As leaders — and they know that kids are looking up to them — it's probably not a good look,” he told me.

This weekend, NFL sidelines became free speech zones.

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Some estimates said more than 20 percent of NFL players made their stand by sitting, kneeling, or locking arms. It was a protest from some players in a league that’s almost 70 percent African American to President Donald Trump, who on Friday during a rally in Alabama said players who protest should be fired. He doubled-down on his criticism on Twitter over the weekend.

At the Gritz Café I met Mickey Reynolds.

“Players don't disrespect the flag. They were just trying to raise awareness to an issue,” Reynold told me, finishing up some catfish and chicken.

Issues for them: what they see as police brutality and racial inequality, which came to sidelines last year when UNR grad and then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took the knee-heard-round-the-league. He remains unemployed.

“The Supreme Court has roundly said you can burn a flag so, you can certainly, you can certainly knee during the anthem in a non-threatening way,” says Professor Ian Bartrum, a constitutional law expert at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law.

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The 45 words of the First Amendment — which enshrine our right to speak — protects us from the government.

Bartrum says it does not protect an employee from your employer. Taking a knee does carry a risk, he says.

“You could get fired for that,” says Bartrum.

It’s a risk players — some wealthy...and some not — are taking.

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Some fans, meanwhile, are just plain fed up.

“It will make me not spend any more money on a football game and therefore I express my condemnation of their speech,” says Dan McBride.

Others wonder, with all that’s going in the world, why are we talking about this?

“I think this is just another way that the president is distracting people, deflecting from other issues that are important,” says Teresa Fullerton.

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