Indianapolis, IN – Former National Football League (NFL) cornerback Antonio Cromartie said he believes his successful 10-year career in professional football ended after he refused to stand for the National Anthem in 2016.
Cromartie joined the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 22, 2016, according to Rotoworld.
Ten days later, San Francisco 49ers quarter Colin Kaepernick took a knee for the first time during the Star Spangled Banner at the start of a pre-season game in what he called a protest of police brutality.
Cromartie, who holds the record for the longest play in NFL history with a 109-yard return on a missed field goal for the San Diego Chargers against the Minnesota Vikings in 2007, supported Kaepernick’s statement.
But the former cornerback said that the management of the Indianapolis Colts was not of the same mind, USA Today reported.
Cromartie said that then-Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano asked players not to kneel for the National Anthem during a locker room speech before the Week 3 game against the San Diego Chargers, USA Today reported.
“I turned around to some of the guys and I spoke to them, and I’m like, ‘So when it’s about leukemia and your cancer, it’s cool. But when it’s about police brutality and social injustice, it’s not cool,’” he said. “I told Chuck Pagano that. I told him straight up, ‘Man, that’s [expletive].’"
Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012 and was the recipient of visible demonstrations of support from both the team and fans while he underwent treatment, USA Today reported.
“It’s all ‘football is bigger than what is going on the outside,’” Cromartie complained. “No it ain’t. How about respecting the guys that’s getting murdered and killed by police officers? And I’m not saying all police officers is bad. But you get some, they get that little power in they [sic] hand and they abuse that power.”
The four-time Pro Bowl player, who was 32 years old at the time, was cut by the Colts after only four games, Rotoworld reported.
“I can remember me, right before the National Anthem, first time I took a knee,” Cromartie told USA Today. “What’s funny is, two or three of the executive guys were standing behind me and was like, ‘Cro, get up.’ I was like ‘Man, [expletive] y’all, I’m not getting up.’ One person even had a towel to try to block it, you know for nobody wanting to take a picture, but they already had took a picture."
“And then Week 4, we are in London and they came up to me before the game and was like, ‘Hey, Cro, please don’t take a knee,’” he continued. “So it was like, ‘Man, y’all better get out my face. Y’all not fitting to sit here and tell me what I can and cannot do.' I actually got benched that game. I got pulled out at halftime, and didn’t play the second half at all.”
But despite his assertions that he was benched for kneeling, USA Today reported that Cromartie was struggling in London before he was pulled from the game and allowed several big receptions to Jackson Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson.
He said the Colts released him two days later and told him it was because other defensive backs who had previously been sidelined by injuries had gotten healthy.
Cromartie told USA Today that he asked Pagano directly if he had been fired for kneeling but the head coach told him he had been released because the other players were back from injuries and ready to play.
“I've said it before and I will say it again, every decision that we make as far as our roster goes and this team goes, is based on two things – what is best for this team and what gives us the best chance to win,” Pagano said at the time.
Cromartie firmly believes that it was taking a knee during the Star Spangled Banner that ended his career, USA Today reported.
“One hundred percent,” he said. “One hundred percent. It ain’t have nothing to do with my age. It ain’t have nothing to do with my style of play. It was because I took a knee. October 2nd was my last game. I got one workout that whole entire time, and that was by the Saints in 2017.”
The former NFL player also said he doesn’t regret kneeling during the National Anthem despite the fact he received death threats for having done so, according to USA Today.
“Why should I?” Cromartie asked. “'Cause at the end of the day, all we did was give people a voice that didn’t have a voice. And it brought more attention to what really was going on and now everybody’s talking about it. But there’s still no solution because it’s still going on.”
The record-breaking cornerback announced his retirement on March 5, 2018, after no NFL team picked him up for the 2017 season.