Last month, Donald Trump ignited a political debate when he said that NFL players should be fired for participating in peaceful protests during the national anthem. On September 25, days after Trump's statement, more than 200 players protested. Earlier this week, the NFL announced that, in keeping with its current policy, players will not be penalized for sitting or kneeling during the anthem.
On Sunday, Associated Press journalists counted 22 players protesting during the anthems in some way before day games. Some took a knee, others sat on the bench, stayed in the tunnel or raised a fist.
On Sunday, the Seahawks and 49ers had the most protesters. Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett and seven Seahawks teammates did not stand during the anthem before their game with the New York Giants.
As a New York City police officer sang the anthem, Bennett was joined by defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, defensive end Brandon Jackson, defensive end Marcus Smith, defensive tackle Jarran Reed, defensive end Frank Clark and defensive end Quinton Jefferson. Defensive end Cliff Avril, scratched for the game, sat between Clark and Bennett.
Another teammate stood with his left arm on Bennett's back. One Seattle player kneeled.
In San Francisco, about a half-dozen 49ers kneeled led by Eric Reid, Marquise Goodwin, rookie linebacker Reuben Foster, Eli Harold, Adrian Colbert and K'waun Williams. All the Dallas Cowboys stood, but defensive tackle David Irving raised his fist after the anthem ended.
"I know that he was very deliberate during the anthem, and of course that's the issue with me," said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who had threatened to bench players who protested the anthem. "I'm very proud of the way they all handled themselves."
In Cleveland, Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews stayed inside the tunnel during the national anthem.
Chargers left tackle Russell Okung stood with his right fist raised during the anthem before Los Angeles hosted the Denver Broncos.
A group of 11 owners and more than a dozen players met for more than two hours Tuesday at the league's headquarters. Among the topics discussed was enhancing the players' platforms for speaking out on social issues. The NFL's policy on the national anthem was not changed.
Just one player appeared to protest visibly during the early games Sunday, with Rams linebacker Robert Quinn raising his fist during the U.S. anthem, then bringing it down before "God Save The Queen" before playing Arizona in London.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and several owners said Wednesday that changing the language from "should stand" to "must stand" was not discussed at the league's fall meetings.
Jones said he is concerned about how the protests are affecting the league's business.
"There's no question that the league is suffering negative things from these protests," Jones said. "I'm first and foremost a proponent of making the league strong and make us have as many people watching the game as we can. ... Let's not do it in a way that tears down the strength of the NFL."
Paid attendance at Sunday's games showed tickets still are selling well, although there were many empty seats at home games for struggling teams.
Only 59,061 tickets were sold in Cleveland where the Browns came in winless and lost 12-9 in overtime to the Tennessee Titans in a stadium with a capacity of 73,200. Indianapolis, which dropped to 2-5 after a loss to Jacksonville, still listed paid attendance of 63,104 at Lucas Oil Stadium with a listed capacity of 70,000 for football.
Most of the Indianapolis Colts locked arms before kickoff at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In Miami, Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas and Julius Thomas all stayed in the locker room during the anthem.