Several members of the Baltimore Ravens knelt during the national anthem before Sunday’s game at Wembley Stadium, but opponents of the protests have singled out one demonstrator in particular: 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis.
Lewis retired from the NFL in early 2013, but he remains involved with the Ravens organization. The future Hall of Famer was on the sideline on Sunday, joining a slew of current players who were protesting President Donald Trump’s recent criticisms of the NFL and its players.
While some applauded Lewis for his actions, others weren’t pleased at the perceived disrespect for the American flag. In response, Ravens fan Eric Moniodis started an online petition asking team owner Steve Bisciotti to remove the statue of Lewis that sits outside Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium.
The petition had reached over 53,000 signatures as of Thursday morning.
“I want the Ray Lewis statue at Ravens Stadium removed because of his refusal to stand during the National Anthem,” the petition begins. “That song honors our country and our veterans who fought for it. To kneel during it is disrespectful, regardless of what you are protesting.”
Despite his decision to kneel, Lewis has insisted that he wasn’t actually protesting anything – he recently told Baltimore’s 105.7 that he’s “not in the protesting business.” On “Inside the NFL,” the two-time Defensive Player of the Year stated that his gesture had a more spiritual meaning.
“I didn’t drop on one knee in order to protest. … I dropped on two knees – both knees – so I can simply honor God in the midst of chaos,” he said.
But that explanation wasn’t good enough for Moniodis, who views Lewis’ actions as indefensible.
“A legend is a hero both on and off the field, and by disgracing this great country by kneeling during the National Anthem, on foreign soil no less, [Lewis] has lost the respect of myself and many of my peers who used to see him in a different light,” Moniodis wrote. “He has soiled the name Ravens, the city of Baltimore, the State of Maryland, and the greatest country on earth, the USA.”
With the movement to remove the Lewis statue gaining steam, the Ravens have increased security in the area, according to The Baltimore Sun.
“There is additional security at the statue plaza at this time,” said Maryland Stadium Authority spokesperson Rachelina Bonacci. “Certainly observers can notice the presence of uniformed security officers at M&T Bank Stadium, which includes the statue plaza. The additional officers and other security enhancements have been in place since Sunday afternoon.”
Lewis played 17 seasons for the Ravens, leading one of the most fearsome defenses in NFL history. He won a pair of Super Bowls in the 2000 and 2012 seasons.
It seems the Ravens are committed to protecting the Lewis statue, but judging from fan reactions, the protest controversy doesn’t look like it’s going to die down any time soon. The team will play its next home game this Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.