ALAMEDA — Long before Colin Kaepernick's protest during the national anthem became one of the biggest issues in the NFL, Oakland Raiders tight end Jared Cook was one of a handful of St. Louis players who took part in their own on-field display against police brutality and racial injustice.
Cook was one of five players on the Rams in 2014 who mimicked the "Hands up, don't shoot" symbol during pregame introductions in support of protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, after a grand jury declined to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown.
While Cook has not been a regular part of protests during the national anthem since Kaepernick first started it in 2016, he supports the cause and disagrees with the NFL's announcement last week that players would be required to stand during the national anthem.
"We're here for a bigger platform," he said Tuesday. "We're not just athletes. We're people that live this. It's people in our neighborhood, it's people that we grew up with, it's people that we know who are actually living through these circumstances. So when we speak on it, it's not like we're just speaking out of the side of our neck. It's things that actually touch home and things that we can actually relate to. All I have to say is, I just think it's sad that it's veered from something that stood for good and the whole narrative has changed into something that's negative when that was not what it was initially about in the first place."
Kaepernick stoked the debate over the anthem when he began protesting police brutality and racial injustice in 2016 by refusing to stand during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before games.
Several players followed suit that year but the issue really moved to the forefront in 2017 when President Donald Trump brought it up at a campaign rally, saying NFL owners should fire any player who refused to stand during the anthem.
More than 200 players protested during the anthem that weekend before the number of protesters dwindled as the season progressed. But the league tried to settle the issue last week by mandating that players must either stand respectfully for the anthem or remain in the locker room. Teams will be subject to fines if players don't comply and will have the option of punishing players.
While other leagues like the NBA already mandate that players stand for the anthem, Cook said there could have been better consultation with the union on this issue and a way to give players an avenue to express their views on these issues.
"You look at a league like the NBA," he said. "I think the NBA always handles its social issues pretty well. It always handles its players really well and with utmost respect for the players. I think there could have been a bigger and a better way to fix the situation."