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Chargers’ Chris McCain explains reasons for kneeling during national anthem

In a protest against President Trump's comments, the Chargers link arms during the national anthem before Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs at StubHub Center.
In a protest against President Trump’s comments, the Chargers link arms during the national anthem before Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs at StubHub Center.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

If the winless Chargers stage a miraculous rally, win the Super Bowl in February and are invited to the White House, it’s a safe bet defensive end Chris McCain won’t be seen anywhere near the Oval Office.

McCain was one of more than a dozen players from the Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs who knelt during the national anthem in StubHub Center on Sunday to draw attention to racism and social injustice and object to President Trump’s comments, which the NFL considered divisive.

At a political rally Friday in Alabama, Trump challenged NFL owners to fire any player who takes a knee during the national anthem, saying owners should say, “Get that son of a … off the field right now. Out! He’s fired!”

McCain was measured in his initial remarks, saying he did not take a knee “to disrespect the flag, to stick a middle finger at the flag,” and that he was simply exercising his First Amendment rights. But his voice cracked with emotion when the subject turned to Trump and those objecting to NFL players standing up for what they believe in.

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“You got people in the stands yelling, ‘Stand up, stand up,’ and our president on Twitter … why you on Twitter, bro?” McCain said. “Why you tweeting us, calling me an SOB.? My momma ain’t no ‘B.’ She’s a real woman.

“I’m not standing against you, but I want you to know that you’re a grown man, I’m a grown man, I’ve got a [2-year-old] daughter who has to follow what you set up, and you’re clearly telling me you don’t care about my daughter. …

“Our own commander in chief, this guy who we’re supposed to lean on and who is here to protect us, clearly is not on our side. He’s not.”

Fellow defensive end Melvin Ingram also knelt during the anthem, saying his gesture was about unity.

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“We aren’t trying to be divided in any way, shape or form,” Ingram said. “We’re just trying to show that we are one unit, one country, one world — everything.”

Quarterback Philip Rivers and coach Anthony Lynn preferred not to comment about the protests, Lynn saying he didn’t want to “mix politics with the locker room or with football.”

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“You might say we’re the same old Chargers ... well right now, we are.” Head coach Anthony Lynn and quarterback Philip Rivers discuss the 24-10 loss to the Chiefs.

Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston took a different tack during the anthem, turning his back to the field, getting on both knees in front of the bench and clasping his hands together in prayer.

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“People are complaining about kneeling and standing, but I feel like it’s pointless because it’s not changing anything,” Houston said. “I feel like prayer changes everything, so I was praying before the game that we come together as one.

“What are we kneeling for? What is that going to change? It’s not going to solve anything. Prayer is power. So I believe if we pray together, the more we come together as one and we can make a change.”

Slow going

It seemed like Lynn finally got what he wanted out of the offense. Running back Melvin Gordon and the ground attack were nonfactors in the first two games, but Sunday in the first half Gordon looked like a star.

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He burst through big holes and made defenders miss, rushing for 78 yards — 11 more than he had in the first two games. The Chargers’ lone touchdown came on an 11-yard Gordon run, where he read the hole perfectly and benefited from strong downfield blocking by tight end Hunter Henry.

And then, it all stopped — for good reason.

Gordon reinjured his left knee, an ailment that limited him in practice last week, and he remained in the locker room until after the start of the third quarter. Gordon returned but had only one yard in two carries in the second half.

“He came out and was cold,” Lynn said. “He eventually worked himself back into the game but the knee did slow him down some.”

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Lynn said the Chargers could give Gordon time off this week, but he expects him to play against Philadelphia on Sunday.

Gordon said he landed awkwardly on the knee, but he’s “fine.”

“I’ve played through a lot, been through a lot,” he said.

Etc.

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Starting right tackle Joe Barksdale was unable to play Sunday because of a foot injury, and with backup tackle Chris Hairston lost for the year because of blood clots, the team turned to Michael Schofield, whom the Chargers signed after Denver released him this preseason. “I thought he stepped in and did a good job,” Lynn said. … Linebacker Hayes Pullard was another surprise inactive after he was slowed by a knee injury last week in practice. … Lynn was unsuccessful in challenging a play in the second half, trying to get the spot of the ball changed along the sideline. The call was quickly confirmed and the Chargers lost a timeout. It’s the second challenge he has lost this season.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

dan.woike@latimes.com

dan.woike@latimes.com

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Twitter: @DanWoikeSports


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