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Detroit — Protesters carrying “I Stand” signs and American flags gathered on street corners near Ford Field on Sunday to protest the Detroit Lions players kneeling during the national anthem.

Brian Pannebecker, 58, who said he voted for President Donald Trump, said he decided to organize the rally after he saw the players “disrespecting the flag.”

The protesters shouted at fans entering the stadium, asking them to stand for the anthem before the Lions vs. Carolina Panthers game.

“I’m a veteran and my son is in the Army. It bothers me when I see people disrespecting the flag during our national anthem,” said Pannebecker of Harrison Township. “Trump spoke out about this issue and I said if they continued to protest on the sidelines, on national TV, I’d organize a protest. We have about 25 people down here today spread out carrying our message.”

About eight protesters joined Pannebecker on the corner of Brush and Beacon before the game. No Lions knelt before the game.

A CBS Sports reporter backtracked from a televised report Sunday that Colin Kaepernick, who first began protesting by kneeling as a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, told CBS that he would stand during the national anthem if given a chance to play football in the NFL again. Kaepernick has been a free agent since March after he opted out of his contract. But Kaepernick has not spoken publicly about what he would do during the anthem.

The issue has resonated across the country, even pulling in President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. On Sunday, Pence left the 49ers-Colt game Indianapolis after about a dozen players took a knee during the national anthem. The former Indiana governor flew in so he could watch Peyton Manning’s jersey being retired. But Pence, after kick-off, said on Twitter: “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.”

The tweet prompted a response by Trump, who later tweeted: “I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.”

Trump chastised players for kneeling during a political rally in Alabama last month and then challenged team owners to fire any player who did so. That set off a wave of protest from players around the NFL on Sept. 24 and statements from team owners condemning Trump’s remarks.

On Sept. 24, eight Lions players took a knee during the anthem on before their game against the Atlanta Falcons. The team’s owner Martha Firestone Ford and her three daughters linked arms with the players and stood with them other players on the sideline during the anthem.

Ford vowed to donate to organizations that are addressing the issues of inequality and injustice that the players are protesting if they stand respectfully as a team during the anthem.

Last Sunday, before the opening kickoff against the Minnesota Vikings, six players were back on their feet, locking arms with teammates in a show of unity against sustained attacks from Trump. Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Steve Longa continued to kneel.

Lions running back Ameer Abdullah, one of the eight who took a knee, indicated the players saw the offer from Ford as a constructive solution.

Pannebecker said he does not agree with Ford’s standing with the players to lock arms during the anthem.

“It’s not acceptable. I think she’s an enabler, she’s enabling her team to disrespect the flag,” Pannebecker said.

srahal@detroitnews.com

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