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Players show pregame soliditary gestures

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BARRY WILNER
September 13, 2010
— With their index fingers in the air, players at half of the 12 NFL afternoon games Sunday, including four-time MVP Peyton Manning, showed their solidarity in support of the union in collective bargaining negotiations.

At Houston, Jacksonville, Tampa, St. Louis, Seattle and Orchard Park, N.Y., players held up their index fingers before kickoff, replicating the gestures made by the Saints and Vikings before Thursday night's season opener in New Orleans.


No such gestures were done at the New Meadowlands Stadium, nor in Foxborough, Mass., Chicago, Pittsburgh, Nashville or Philadelphia.


The demonstrations are designed to show the support players have for each other in the final year of the CBA, from which the owners opted out in 2008.


At Houston, about a dozen Colts, led by Manning, and nearly all of the Texans held up their index fingers just after the national anthem. Fans briefly booed the gesture.


"It's something that we feel is important, not just to show solidarity as players, or just, 'We're going to fight the man, or whatever,'" Texans tackle Eric Winston said. "It's a show of solidarity saying that, 'Hey, we're in it together with all the workers in the stadium, all the police officers that are working extra in here, all the firefighters, all the medical staff, all the businesses around the stadium.


"That's what it's really all about. It's about the $140 million that every city loses if we don't have football next year. That's really what it's about. It's not just about us. We want football, because they deserve it, too."


In Orchard Park, home of the Bills, numerous fans took note and some also raised their fingers. Most Bills players stepped off the sideline and onto the field with their index fingers raised toward the Dolphins. About three-quarters of the Dolphins then did the same.


"After watching the Saints and Vikings do it, it kind of sent chills down my body," said Bills safety George Wilson, their player representative to the union.


Wilson asked his teammates about making a similar demonstration and then talked to Miami's player rep, Ricky Williams. Both sides agreed to doing the gesture before Sunday's game.


"That shows you that at the end of the day we are men of the same fraternity," Wilson added. "We are all businessmen and family men, out here playing for our livelihood and playing for our families. For us to be on the same page before the kickoff was, more of anything, bringing awareness to the potential lockout that's looming for the 2011 season."


In Jacksonville, several Jaguars and Broncos walked toward middle of field near the hash marks with one finger raised after the national anthem. And in Tampa, players from both the Buccaneers and Browns came off sideline and held up one finger before the coin toss.


Each player on the Rams and Cardinals stepped out on the field and held up fingers, and so did the team captains on their way to the coin toss at midfield. They didn't draw much crowd reaction.


Seattle and San Francisco players all raised one finger at the conclusion of the national anthem.


But nothing was done at the Panthers-Giants game.


"I didn't even know about it when the Saints played," Giants center Shaun O'Hara said. "It wasn't like they told everybody they were going to do that. I thought they handled it well, but we didn't talk about doing anything here because it doesn't get anything done. Players right now, our responsibility is our jobs and focusing on games. We have people to negotiate for us. We are not negotiating ourselves so it's not anything we are concerned about now."


Jets fullback Tony Richardson, a longtime key union figure who coincidentally was released by the Jets in the final preseason cut, then re-signed, likes what he has seen.


"Well, I think, that obviously was a great start," said Richardson, whose team plays Monday night against Baltimore. "Our offensive line has been talking about one team, one voice, one heartbeat. That's not going to change. We all stand together. Just like the owners, they all stand together.


"The biggest thing is we want to get some work done, so it's not like us versus them. It's the fact that we have a great working relationship and we want to continue that working relationship. We understand that it's a process, it's a negotiation, and we just have to keep working on it."



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