A group of NFL players is helping a youth team in Texas play football this season, and preserve their right to protest.

Members of the Beaumont Bulls decided to take a knee during the national anthem last season, and their coach, Rah Rah Barber, was suspended as a result. After players stayed away in solidarity with their coach, they saw the rest of their season canceled and decided to form a new team – the Southeast Texas Oilers – to join a different league.

The NFL group – headed by Malcolm Jenkins and Torrey Smith of the Philadelphia Eagles, Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots, and free agent Anquan Boldin – has donated $20,000 to help finance the Oilers’ inaugural season.

“We wanted to make sure that we sent those kids the message that it’s OK to stand up for what you believe in,” Jenkins told ESPN’s Tim McManus. “We didn’t want them to walk away from the season feeling punished for trying to do the right thing.

“We wanted to make sure that was rewarded and acknowledged and encouraged, so that was our main motivation for helping.”

The team made their demonstration in September and reportedly received death threats via social media. Oilers vice president April Parkerson, whose son approached Barber about protesting, said the kids “felt forgotten” after losing their team and attention from media, but the NFLers changed that course.

The money donated will pay for helmets, shoulder pads, tackling dummies, blocking pads, a hydration station, field striking kit, down markers, and footballs. Parkerson estimated it would have taken a year and a half plus $10,000 of their own money to fund the upcoming season.

“They made it possible for my kids to play football,” Barber said.

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