At Monday night’s game between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons, the two teams joined together after the National Anthem to express a unique message of unity.
In response to recent police shootings in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, players from the two teams decided that as the American Flag was being taken away after the anthem they would join together in the center of the field, form a circle and hold hands.
According to ESPN, the Saints coach, Sean Payton reached out to Dan Quinn, coach of the Falcons, with the idea and quarterbacks, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan worked together to come up with the statement in a way that would get across the message of unity while still being respectful of the national anthem.
“… Everybody knows what’s been going on throughout this entire year and for a long time. And people think things need to change,” Ryan told ESPN. “We all felt like the best way to do it was everybody do it together. And we wanted to send a message loud and clear that unity is probably the best way to make a change, and I thought that came across loud and clear tonight.”
Both teams shared the special moment on Twitter with the caption, “With a message of togetherness, the Falcons and Saints lock arms and put the rivalry aside for a moment before.”
The unity circle was also influenced by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick‘s demonstration. The 49ers quarterback has been protesting against police brutality and unjust treatment of the black community since this year’s preseason games in August by sitting, and more recently, kneeling, during the National Anthem.
Since Kaeperick’s protests have received such a significant amount of backlash from people who feel his action is disrespectful, the Falcons and Saints worked to avoid any semblance of that concern in their display.
Following the game, Falcons tight end Jacob Tamme issued a statement on Twitter to discuss his thoughts on the pregame circle and his belief that we all need to remain united in times of struggle.
Though this is the first time two teams have come together to make a statement, since Kaepernick started sitting out the anthem he has inspired several other NFL players to take part in the protest. Los Angeles Rams players Kenny Britt and Robert Quinn were seen raising their fists during a game earlier this month.
Other NFL players like Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, along with several Dolphins and New England Patriots players have also shown their support for Kaepernick’s message during games.