The national anthem-kneeling controversy is back for the San Francisco 49ers, and this time it’s not due to the team’s former quarterback, Colin Kaepernick.
Prior to the 49ers’ Thursday night football game this week, there was a kneeler — but it wasn’t a player.
This time, it was one of the team’s cheerleaders, who was photographed kneeling for the anthem, several media outlets are reporting this morning.
The news first gained traction when a fan with end zone seats took a photo during the national anthem.
In the picture, all but one cheerleader is seen in formation, standing for the flag, while one is kneeling.
On the Jumbotron in the picture, players and fans standing for the anthem with their hands over their hearts are also visible.
No 49ers players have knelt for the anthem this season.
One of the Niners cheerleaders is taking a knee. pic.twitter.com/DW5SJqh9zj
— 2004 never happened (@GatorLenny) November 2, 2018
NBC Bay Area reporter Damian Trujillo also captured the moment from another angle.
He tweeted out an image more zoomed in on the kneeling cheerleader, who has yet to be identified.
— Damian Trujillo (@newsdamian) November 2, 2018
Last night’s game, which was against the Oakland Raiders, marks the first time on record that a cheerleader engaged in a national anthem protest, but it was not the first time a non-player took part in the “movement.”
In 2017, singer Meghan Linsey, who appeared on “The Voice” two years before, performed the national anthem prior to a game between the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans. When she was finished singing, she took a knee on the field.
From a revenue standpoint, people kneeling for the anthem, whether they’re players or cheerleaders, could have a negative impact on the 49ers.
After all, the NFL’s viewership dropped by more than 17 percentage points over the 2016 and 2017 seasons when kneeling for the national anthem was surging in the league.
In 2017, the league’s favorability rating also dropped dramatically (from 57 percent to 44 percent from August to September of last year, according to The Winston Group) as league-wide national anthem protests occurred.
Fans also made clear their distaste for kneelers by publicly burning their tickets and memorabilia — and for refusing to air NFL games in their local businesses, among other methods.
Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, and other outlets.