PHILADELPHIA -- Olivier Vernon is the son of a retired police officer who served for 25 years. He's a child of immigrants, with a father who came from Jamaica and a mother who hailed from Switzerland. He has watched the racial problems he sees in this country for a while, and listened closely to the words of a man he insisted "ain't my president."
Sometime on Saturday, though, the Giants defensive end decided he had enough.
That's why, as the Giants players and coaches locked arms during the national anthem before their 27-24 loss to the Eagles, Vernon became one of the first Giants players to protest by taking a knee. He was joined by safety Landon Collins and defensive tackle Damon Harrison, in what he believed was a perfectly appropriate -- and necessary -- display of their first amendment rights.
"You know what? I had a lot of patience," Vernon said. "I had a lot of patience from last year about what was going on. And I respect this nation, this country. All those remarks just built up and just hearing that, kind of struck a chord."
What he heard, of course, was the now-infamous speech on Friday night by President Donald Trump, who called for any NFL player who protested during the national anthem to be fired. He also referred to any protester as a "son of a bitch." Those were strong words that drew equally strong words from a small army of NFL owners, the NFL commissioner and the president of the players union. It also sparked a day of protests and demonstrations during anthems around the league on Sunday afternoon.
Those protests began, of course, last year when then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling for the anthem to protest, among other things, a string of police shootings of unarmed African-Americans. His fight against racial inequality and injustice is what many believe is the reason he's now out of the league.
And maybe it is. Perhaps that's why so few players had taken up the fight before Sunday. But as several Giants said, they feel they can't afford not to stand -- or kneel -- with Kaepernick anymore.
"It's bigger than money, it's bigger than a game," Harrison explained in post-game statement he made on Twitter. "People with hate in their hearts are attempting to control us by using words only. It's like chaining a baby elephant up for so long that as an adult you can remove the chains and he won't move because he thinks he's still chained.
"This isn't a black and white thing. This is good vs. evil. I'm not afraid of outcomes or the higher ups. What terrifies me? That chasing money has blinded me to the realities of here and now. Chasing the 'American dream' has silenced me in fear [of] losing it all. What good is the American dream if my sons and daughters aren't respected or even alive to enjoy it? I wouldn't be able to sleep or walk with my head held high as a man or father."
"It's crazy," Vernon added. "It's an emotional thing that gets you really, really angry regardless of what type of person you are. Just because you've got money or you're playing a high-level sport, you're supposed to be OK with what's going on? I don't understand how that's right."
Even those Giants who chose to stand for the anthem seemed to agree with that point. And they shared the anger that Vernon and Harrison felt over what even the Giants owners called the president's "inappropriate, offensive and divisive" remarks.
"It's getting to the point right now in America where we can't ignore what's going on. This is real," wide receiver Brandon Marshall said. "When we talk about oppression, that stuff is real. We've got to validate that. And I think that's what people are looking for: Just validation. And a conversation.
"I'm really disappointed in President Trump's remarks. That just proves … you know, this is the most powerful man in the country, and for him to stand up and say that shows what we feel is real, you know? Like, that's what we're saying. Exactly how President Trump talked, that's what we're talking about."
Added linebacker Jonathan Casillas: "We have people that went and fought for us over the decades and centuries that fought for our freedom and liberties to be able to protest and be able to have a voice, individually. And for the president to go ahead and call us a 'son of a bitch' for doing what we're right to do … The people that fought for our flag, that's what they're fighting for. They're fighting for our freedom and our right to be able to do stuff like that.
"And as the POTUS of the greatest country in the world to say things like that … I think he's wrong and it sucks that we've got to listen to this crap all the time."
Vernon said he wasn't sure if he or any of the other Giants would continue to kneel for the national anthem. But if they do, they have an unexpected ally in Giants coach Ben McAdoo. A year ago he said he'd be "disappointed" if any of his players choose not to stand for the Star Spangled Banner.
But he listened to his players and discussed with them their concerns and the issues. And on Sunday, he made it very clear that he's heard them, and he has their back.
"We talked about it pregame and opened it up [so] that we can stand united as a team," McAdoo said. "It seems like the message we are getting from the White House is that they are trying to create division in this league, whether it's with a team or whatever the case may be, and doing things on an individual basis may be playing into their hands.
"So we need to stick together as a football team. Going back to the message where we practice empathy here. I believe in it. I'm not sure how much the president can empathize with our players and the way they grew up. They grew up a lot different than a lot of people -- some tougher than others. And I think empathy is the key message here. To choose understanding over judgement."