Amid a sea of protests on NFL Sunday, one in particular stood out. While players, coaches, owners, and entire teams protested while The Star-Spangled Banner played before their games, it was Rico LaVelle, who sang the national anthem itself, whose protest got some extra attention.
At the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons game on Sunday, LaVelle sang the national anthem. As the song got to the final words, "home of the brave," LaVelle ended it on one knee, fist in the air. While he sang, protesting players either kneeled or stood and locked arms in solidarity, joining dozens and dozens of NFL people who protested after President Trump criticized players who kneel during the national anthem.
"Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now,'" Trump said. Those comments led to a Trump tweetstorm, and ultimately, more attention on the protests.
Taking a knee during the national anthem was first done in 2016 by Colin Kaepernick, a former member of the San Francisco 49ers who kneeled to make a statement about police brutality and racial injustice in the United States.
That message led to heavy criticism of Kaepernick, who is currently a free agent after not being signed by any NFL teams. But the message also resonated with many others — more than just people affiliated with the NFL, but also with Americans across the country who have also been calling attention to the issues of police brutality and racial injustice.
It clearly resonated with this singer as well. According to his SoundCloud profile, LaVelle is a Detroit-based musician who also goes by the name MidWest Rico. He has one song available for download on iTunes called "Stereotypical Groupie," which is categorized as R&B/soul. It seems to be pretty popular, too — he once tweeted a video of his song on the radio and joked about how he couldn't get into a club that was playing his music inside.
Before the game, LaVelle posted a video on Instagram that alluded to his protest, writing, "Detroit makes history..... AGAIN."
As Niraj Warikoo, a staff writer for the Detroit Free Press, pointed out, the photo of LaVelle kneeling with his fist in the air evoked the memory of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, when American gold and bronze medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised their fists throughout the entire national anthem.
According to David Davis of Smithsonian magazine, the athletes wore a black glove to symbolize black strength and unity, and wore black socks and no shoes to symbolize African-American poverty. It is known as one of the most political moments in Olympic history.
And the photo of LaVelle does definitely bear striking similarities to the iconic photo.
LaVelle's protest has gotten mixed reviews — literally — on his Facebook page. People have gone online to express their opinions of what he did at the game, with some people thanking him for using his platform and others condemning him for the act.
"Very disrespectful to us that fought for this country," one person wrote.
"There is not a rating low enough to give you," said another.
"In a time when we need to bring people together, we’re stuck with people like you, defaming our country and trying to make a statement all together," one more said.
But the majority was in favor of his protest. Words like "thank you," "grateful," "brave," and "courage" flooded the page.
"Thank you so much for your bravery today in taking a stand against inequality and injustice! Please keep using that beautiful voice of yours," one person wrote.
"As a veteran I can say that America is proud of you, don't listen to the haters," another added. "You stand up for the freedoms we fought for. Great job today."