Cyrus Kouandjio joined the Buffalo Bills in 2014. On Thursday, he became a U.S. citizen.
The tackle took the Oath of Allegiance and led the Pledge of Allegiance. He told reporters he could never kneel for the national anthem.
“I can’t kneel during the anthem,” Kouandjio told the Buffalo News. “I don’t blame Colin Kaepernick for doing what he did. But for me, I have too much respect for a flag and anthem that represent freedom and liberty.”
Kouandjio’s journey to citizenship started as a preadolescent when he journeyed from Cameroon to the United States. His family found hardship in Africa. In America, they found opportunity.
“My father still tells stories of running away from the violence, hiding out in the woods, his baby sister on his back,” Kouandjio explained to the Buffalo News. “He lived in a far different world.”
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The former University of Alabama standout gave a “Go Bills and Roll Tide” at the ceremony, which saw 34 people from 24 nations become U.S. citizens. His brother, a lineman for the Washington Redskins, gained citizenship earlier this year.
“I think it’s awesome,” Bills head coach Rex Ryan reacted to the player becoming a citizen. “I mean, it’s great. I know he was really happy about it and I know it’s quite a process but I know he was really, really excited.”
Kouandjio, Ryan, and the 4-5 Bills travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals on Sunday.
“I’m a Christian, and I feel like the forefathers of this country build this constitution around Christian values – Christian values like freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the offensive lineman told WGR-AM. “And I’m just glad to be a part of it.”