Saints-Vikings gesture felt league-wide

Updated: September 12, 2010, 9:01 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

A day after players from the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings kicked off the NFL season with a pregame show of union solidarity, players on other teams said they heard the gesture loud and clear.

And some may seek to reprise the salute Sunday and Monday.

"That's just a great way to show respect from one player to another," said safety George Wilson, the union rep for the Buffalo Bills, from the team's practice facility in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Minutes before the NFL's season opener Thursday night, the Saints and Vikings emerged from the sideline, walking onto the field with their right index fingers raised before pausing about 10 yards out. The players raised one finger to show they are one unit as the bargaining process goes forward.

The NFL is facing a possible lockout for the 2011 season if the owners and players can't reach a compromise on a new collective bargaining agreement.

The NFL has declined to comment on Thursday night's gesture and the possibility of others during Sunday and Monday's games.

At his retirement news conference Friday in Nashville, NFLPA president Kevin Mawae said he was at the Vikings-Saints game and liked the show of unity. "It was a great step by the leaders on both of those teams," he said. "...We're not calling players saying 'Everybody needs to do this.' That move was leadership, driven by the players not the organization."

One of the Dallas Cowboys' player representatives, Jason Witten, said he didn't see Thursday night's gesture but was briefed on it soon afterward.

"I thinks it's special," Witten said after practice Friday. "Guys on our team are talking about it and it's especially neat to see Drew Brees and Steve Hutchinson, some of the best players in the league, showing that. It's very unselfish on their part."

The Cowboys open their season with a primetime Sunday night matchup at Washington against the Redskins.

Asked if they would do something similar, Cowboys center Andre Gurode said he thought Dallas' player reps might hold a team meeting to discuss their ideas.

"We're all in this together," Gurode said. "Past, present and future players."

But not every player was steadfast with support.

Cowboys receiver Roy Williams said he "stays out of politics" and added he doesn't vote in presidential elections. Asked to elaborate on his ambivalence toward the looming labor battle, Williams declined.

Around the New York Giants locker room on Friday players backed the gesture, though the prospect of a similar action for Sunday's game against the visiting Carolina Panthers hadn't been brought up.

Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said if fans could see the players' positions they might be able to have an actual influence on the process.

"They probably have a bigger voice than they understand that they do," Kiwanuka said. "So if the fans are against the lockout and come out and support the players and our side, they can probably do a lot more than they think they can as far as avoiding that situation."

Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora said the country's economic problems may make it hard for fans to choose sides when billions of dollars are involved.

"It's important for everybody to know what's going on what the issues are," Umenyiora said. "Because from the outside looking in it could probably seem like two groups of people who are making a bunch of money who are squabbling over semantics. So I think it's important for people to know that nobody wants to get the short end of the stick here. Because I see where the owners are coming and I see where the players are coming from also."

But Umenyiora said the labor situation went beyond the money and reached to the personal lives of players.

Umenyiora We don't want to alienate the fans. We don't want to make them think that we're just a bunch of greedy people walking around. But at the end of the day we still must do what we have to do.

-- Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora

"We don't want to alienate the fans. We don't want to make them think that we're just a bunch of greedy people walking around. But at the end of the day we still must do what we have to do," Umenyiora said.

Bills safety Wilson said Thursday night's gesture "gladiator-like, almost."

"When I saw it, it sent chills down my body," Wilson said. "It was a true acknowledgment from one team to an opponent: 'Yeah, we're about to embark on 60 minutes of hell, of physical competition, aggression and passion, but before we do that, we're one team, one locker room.' "

Wilson said the impact reached its intended target.

"I guarantee without a shadow of a doubt, every owner had a conversation about what they saw and what it means moving forward," Wilson said. "Our players are together. Even though we're playing football, we're businessmen and family men. Even though we're about to go into he heat of battle, we're conscious of everything that's going on around our game right now and the lockout that's looming."

Dolphins backup quarterback Chad Pennington said teams should decide for themselves whether they want to duplicate the display.

"I think it should go team by team," Pennington said. "If they think it's necessary and they feel they want to do it, then why not? Shoot, unfortunately, it's the position we're in. It's a gesture of unity and believing in the same thing and standing for a common goal. I don't really see a problem with it."

Information from ESPN.com's Tim Graham, Matt Mosley, Paul Kuharsky and ESPNNewYork.com's Jane McManus was used in this report.

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