A cheerleader for the San Francisco 49ers kneeled during the national anthem on Thursday during a game against the Oakland Raiders at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, south of San Francisco.
The gesture caught the attention of Damian Trujillo, an NBC Bay Area reporter, who snapped a photo of the gesture from the stands, and Lenny Herold, who was also in the stands.
The photos show a brunette cheerleader taking a knee as her fellow Gold Rush cheerleaders stand in uniform poses. While it’s unclear what her motives were, the unidentified cheerleader’s act of taking a knee mirrors the ongoing NFL protests started by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Herold said that people didn’t have a big reaction to the cheerleader’s gesture.
“No one else that I know of noticed or reacted,” he told HuffPost in a message. “She stayed with her teammates for the rest of the game, and they appeared to support her.”
In 2016, Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthems to draw attention to police brutality against minorities. Other players in the NFL started to follow suit, to the dismay of conservatives, including President Donald Trump, who found the peaceful protest disrespectful to military veterans.
Representatives of the 49ers did not respond to HuffPost’s request for the cheerleader’s name and for comment on the apparent act of protest.
Thursday’s pre-game anthem in San Francisco marks the first public display of protest by an NFL cheerleader. According to a report by Elle.com, former NFL cheerleaders said that the act of protesting would distract from a cheerleader’s job to be a positive and upbeat presence on the field ― which likely deters many cheerleaders from participating, despite their political beliefs.
“Bottom line, cheerleaders are a little fish in a big pond,” broadcast journalist and former Jacksonville Jaguars cheerleader Michele Wright told Elle. “Although they are of great worth and value to the football experience and their respective communities, many are undervalued. So to remain neutral, they wouldn’t take a knee.”
Trump has railed against all forms of protest during the national anthem since its inception in 2016. When it was clear the demonstrations would continue during the 2018 NFL pre-season, Trump urged the league to suspend the protesting athletes without pay.
The NFL attempted to stop the kneeling protests in May by approving a mandate that requires players on the field to stand during the national anthem while giving them the option to remain off the field.
The league put a hold on the ban in July after the players’ union complained it was “inconsistent” with the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement and violated the players’ rights.
However, the ban didn’t stop players from protesting during the anthem in new ways, including raising a fist and continuing to take a knee.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly noted that Levi’s Stadium was in San Francisco. The stadium is located in the city of Santa Clara, south of San Francisco.