Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch made news before even playing a game in his return to the NFL by sitting during the national anthem before Saturday's preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals.
The popular NFL player, known for his history of bruising runs and his testy relationship with the media, told Raiders head coach, Jack Del Rio, that the move was not a protest related to the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, according to ESPN.
"[Lynch] said, 'This is something I've done for 11 years. It's not a form of anything other than me being myself,'" Del Rio said to the media after the game. "I said, 'So you understand how I feel. I very strongly believe in standing for the national anthem, but I'm going to respect you as a man. You do your thing, and we'll do ours.' So that's a non-issue for me."
Lynch is returning to the NFL this season after taking last season off in a brief "retirement." He was traded from the Seattle Seahawks to the Oakland Raiders shortly after returning to the league.
Notably, while Lynch was out of the league, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick caused a national firestorm by kneeling during pregame national anthems in protest of police violence against minorities.
Despite multiple openings for teams needing starting or backup quarterbacks this offseason, no team has chosen to sign Kaepernick, leading to accusations that the league has blackballed the embattled quarterback.
Lynch took a strong stance on Kaepernick's protests in an interview with Conan O'Brien last fall.
"My take on it is s*** has to start somewhere," Lynch said to O'Brien. "If that was the starting point, I just hope people open up their eyes to see that there's really a problem going on and something needs to be done for it to stop. If you're really not racist then you won't see what he's doing as a threat to America but just addressing a problem that we have."
Despite Lynch's claim that he has sat for the national anthem for 11 years, photos quickly surfaced online showing Lynch standing during anthems at various games. It's unclear how often Lynch has consistently stood or sat over the years for anthems.
Lynch isn't the only player in the NFL not standing for the national anthem. Lynch's former teammate, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, did not stand for anthems last season and continues not to do so to raise awareness for the need to fight prejudice and hate of all kinds.
National anthem protests have had a quantifiable impact on the NFL's bottom line over the past year. The league's ratings declined in 2016. A recent survey by J.D. Power indicated that 26 percent of respondents who watched fewer NFL games last season cited national anthem protests as the reason, and 24 percent of respondents cited either domestic violence or pace of play issues as the reason.