At Thursday’s NFL season opener, the Houston Texans stayed in their locker room for both the pregame playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is often called the Black national anthem.
The Kansas City Chiefs, meanwhile, were on the field for both songs. The defending Super Bowl champions stood on their sideline during the national anthem, many with arms linked. Defensive end Alex Okafor appeared to be the lone player who kneeled.
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When Houston eventually took the field, the respective quarterbacks for both teams, the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Texans’ Deshaun Watson, organised a lineup of all the players.
They stood with arms linked during a moment of silence.
Some boos from the COVID-downsized crowd at Arrowhead Stadium were audible.
The fact that players standing together during a moment of silence would cause such a reaction from some of the sport’s most devoted fans is one reason the NFL has seemingly stopped worrying about everyone’s opinions.
It was a few seconds of respectful demonstration.
And yet still, some objected to it occurring, objected to the quiet views and simple actions of no less than Mahomes and his teammates, who had delivered the city a long-awaited Super Bowl.
During the moment of unity between the Texans and Chiefs, some fans responded by booing.pic.twitter.com/qRnle1XiJg— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) September 11, 2020
I suppose it is fitting for this year that the first major sporting event to be played in front of a significant number of fans since March results in behavior like this. Truly embarrassing behavior by these fans. Imagine booing a “moment of unity”?! pic.twitter.com/yyk7GZvzCY— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) September 11, 2020
If that isn’t a reasonable or peaceful enough of a “protest” then it’s not what the players are doing, but the fact they are doing anything at all.
This was the culmination of an issues-heavy run-up to the traditional season kickoff. The offseason was overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest following multiple high-profile incidents involving African Americans and the police.
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The NBC pregame show was full of segments and videos promoting activism and social justice efforts. The phrases “It Takes All Of Us” and “End Racism” were painted behind each end zone. An NFL video promoting social justice also played on the big screen.
This was the NFL leaning into the promotion of social justice causes just a few years after a kneeling Colin Kaepernick, and heavy criticism from Donald Trump and a segment of fans, had left the league rocked and reeling.
If nothing else, the scene Thursday, which is expected to play out in various ways across the league this weekend and beyond, is a sign that the NFL is no longer afraid of the backlash from disillusioned fans or Trump himself.
This is how it’s going to be, the NFL is saying. Take it or leave it.
“I’m going to do whatever I believe is right,” Mahomes, arguably the most popular player in the league said earlier this week.
“I’m not worried about people and how they are going to do negative stuff back to me. I’m worried about doing what’s right for humanity and for all people to feel equal.”
“These are our communities,” Goodell said on the NBC pregame show, clearly supportive of whatever players and coaches come up with.
“We live in these communities. We play in these communities. We operate in these communities. And I think we’re all tired and see the things that are going on, the abuses that shouldn’t be happening. It is a time for us to make the changes.
“We aren’t here to make political statements,” Goodell continued.
“We are here to make our communities better.”