Just before the national anthem at M&T Bank Stadium Oct. 1, the stadium public address announcer invited the crowd to join the Ravens in a short prayer for unity, and with that the Ravens players collectively took a knee on the sideline.
As they did so, boos rained down, the anger still clearly palpable among some fans after players around the league took a knee before the national anthem last week to protest racial inequality and specifically comments made by President Donald Trump that any NFL player who kneels for the anthem should be fired.
But once the moment of silence for prayer ended, all players from the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers were on their feet when the national anthem was sung.
Earlier this week, Ravens players said they had met as a team and had decided to how to address an issue that had roiled the league and its fan base during the past week, though they did not disclose those plans prior to the game.
The simmering controversy clearly was still fresh before the game, with many fans sporting flag-themed shirts or hats, and some carrying small hand-held U.S. flags. A few fans wore the jersey of Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals player who became an Army Ranger and was later killed in Afghanistan.
Before the game, and before the moment of silence, fans broke out into a "USA! USA!" chant.
But when the players took a knee to pray, the moment of silence became a moment of booing.
"It’s their prerogative to boo or not boo," tight end Ben Watson said. "Fans pay for their ticket and they get to say what they want to say. We decided as a team collectively to just have a moment of silence with everything that's going on. We wanted to pray for unity, we wanted to show the unity amongst each other."
The players insisted the controversy was not a distraction, and that once the game began it had no bearing on the Ravens’ uninspired play during a 26-9 loss. But the players clearly heard the boos.
"Even though it was supposed to be a silent prayer, it was mainly boos," linebacker C.J. Mosley said, "but that goes to show it has nothing to do with the anthem. And we stood for the anthem, because we respect the flag and respect the veterans and everything that got misconstrued with us taking a knee last week."
Receiver Mike Wallace said, "We did what we felt like we needed to do. We felt it was a positive move in the right direction for everybody involved."
Linebacker Terrell Suggs said he anticipated the fans might react as they did, but stressed the Ravens were trying to show "solidarity."
"We knew it was possible that we were going to get it," Suggs said of the booing. "We just wanted to show our fans that we still do stand in solidarity. We don’t want anybody to lose the narrative of why we’re doing it. We don’t want people to think that we’re disrespecting the flag or the military or anything like that. … As you saw, we all stood up (for the national anthem), like we normally do around here."
Photo Credit: PressBox Staff