Autumn in America means the end of summer and the start of football – of tailgating, office pools, wearing our favorite jerseys, buying a bigger TV or splurging on the NFL package to watch every red zone play in every game – live.

It is football season and millions of fans are full of hope.

But fifteen years ago, no games were played during the weekend of September 15 and16, 2001.

The nation was in shock.

The rubble at Ground Zero in New York was still smoldering and police officers and firefighters searched frantically hoping to find a survivor, even as they mourned the loss of their own who rushed to the scene when thousands fled.

Throughout the country, flags were everywhere.

Radio stations played ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’

Today, on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, football is again in the air, but the focus isn’t on whether the Broncos can repeat without Peyton Manning or which player will emerge as a standout.

Instead, all eyes are on the bench, watching to see if players will follow the lead of San Francisco back-up quarterback Colin Kaepernick and kneel during the national anthem.

Kaepernick, the former starter replaced after a few less-than-stellar seasons, created a controversy when he chose to take a knee as a protest against what he calls oppression of African-Americans and police brutality.

Many fans were outraged at the disrespect and some supported him, while coaches, GMs and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell rushed to find the middle ground in tepid official statements designed neither to offend, nor actually defend.

Then, at the season opener of Thursday Night Football, a rematch between Super Bowl opponents, Bronco linebacker Brandon Marshall took a knee.

And then, on Sunday, September 11, as family members read the names of 3,000 Americans who died that day, more players joined the vague protest against “police brutality.”

Miami Dolphins Arian Foster, Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas and Jelani Jenkins knelt. Foster raised his fist in the Black Panther salute, as did Kansas City Chief Marcus Peters, and New England Patriots Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty.

On a day devoted to honoring the heroism of the NYPD and other first responders, and remembering the unity that bound Americans together during that horrible time, grown men who are paid millions to play a game demanded the spotlight be shined on them instead.

And through it all, not a single player has offered an explanation of how kneeling during the national anthem will improve a single thing in the life of one American.

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