Texans Skip Anthem At Opener, Crowd Boos Moment Of Unity
The Texans stayed in the locker room during Thursday's season opener against the Chiefs for the playing of both the national anthem and "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and one team exec explained that the move was made "so there would be no misinterpretation of them celebrating one song or throwing shade on the other," according to NBC's Michele Tafoya. Texans Exec VP/Football Operations Jack Easterby indicated that the decision was "not about Black or white, it’s about change.” After coming onto the field following the playing of the songs, the Texans joined the Chiefs at midfield for a moment of unity, and Chiefs President Mark Donovan indicated that was an "idea agreed upon by Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson on behalf of their teams." The players also came up with "seven phrases that appeared on the scoreboard during that moment" that support social change. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell indicated that the league respected the players and supported their "extraordinary efforts to effect positive and sustainable change." Tafoya: "That is evidenced by the fact that the league allowed these two teams to use this platform to send their message” ("Texans-Chiefs," NBC, 9/10). Texans S Justin Reid said he "personally wouldn't have been opposed to delaying the start of the game." However, he added that the team had a "conversation about that possibility and questioned whether delaying the start of the game really sends 'a message' if the players still ended up playing" (ESPN.com, 9/10).
PLAYERS SUPPORTED BY TEAMMATES: In Houston, Aaron Wilson reports while the Texans were in the locker room during the national anthem, every Chiefs player stood except for DE Alex Okafor, who "took a knee and raised his right fist above his head" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 9/11). In K.C., Sam McDowell reports each team had player meetings to "determine its method of protesting social justice." Chiefs TE Travis Kelce said that they "emphasized every player would be supported in his own gesture, a reference to Okafor’s choice to kneel during the anthem." But McDowell notes the two teams "elected to separate the 'moment of unity' from the anthem" (K.C. STAR, 9/11). NBC’s Tony Dungy said, “I hope we don’t get hung up and focused on who’s standing, who’s kneeling, who’s in the locker room, who isn’t. Because that’s not the issue.” NBC's Mike Tirico said, "I’m just looking at the Houston thing and I don't know the specifics, but from the outside they didn’t have full agreement on what to do as a team. So they listened, which is what we hopefully are all doing more of, they came together, they bridged their differences, and they’ve taken action together. Hopefully, that can be a symbol for what all us do here going forward" ("Football Night in America," NBC, 9/10).
NO AVOIDING THE BOOS: The CHRONICLE's Wilson notes some fans at Arrowhead Stadium "loudly booed the players" during the moment of unity. Texans DE J.J. Watt said, "The moment of unity I certainly thought was good. ... The booing was unfortunate. I don’t understand that. There was no flag involved, nothing other than two teams coming together to show unity." Texans coach & GM Bill O'Brien: "Maybe they were just booing us because we had just come on the field as the visiting team" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 9/11). In K.C., Vahe Gregorian writes more than a few voices "resonated in nasty, embarrassing fashion" when the teams "stood up for social justice with actions including a moment of silence 'dedicated to the ongoing fight for equality in our country.'" That "radical idea was enough to cue the boos as both teams linked arms." While the "vast majority of fans didn’t boo," those who did were "heard plenty and, shame that it was, likely lent more voice and conviction to the very movement they sought to condemn" (K.C. STAR, 9/11). However, SI.com's Jimmy Traina notes a video taken from inside the stadium "paints a slightly different picture" than what came out of Thursday. Traina: "Yes, there was booing, which was absurd, but it wasn't like every person there was booing" (SI.com, 9/11).
UNDER INCREASED SCRUTINY: YAHOO SPORTS' Terez Paylor notes the social media reaction to the moment of unity "served as a stark reminder that in the few NFL stadiums where fans are allowed, the in-the-moment reactions to player-led statements will be closely watched and dissected, especially early in the season" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/11). USA TODAY's Nate Davis writes there are "probably gonna be more somewhat disjointed displays across the league this weekend -- some fans supportive, others not so much." Davis: "It's worth wondering if the primary messaging will get overshadowed ... as it did in 2016" (USA TODAY, 9/11). However, YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel writes 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." Wetzel: "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 [President] Trump himself. This is how it’s going to be, the NFL is saying. Take it or leave it" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/11).
SIGN OF THINGS TO COME? The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Andrew Beaton notes Thursday's game "could be a preview of the entire opening weekend -- and season -- when continued player protests are anticipated." It also will "likely lead to the type of political blowback the NFL has become familiar with over the past several years, with those pressures surfacing during the heart of a presidential election campaign." President Trump throughout the summer has "continued to assail the player protests during the anthem on the field of play" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/11). SI.com's Conor Orr writes Thursday night's fan reaction could be an "outlier," as observers could be "making the familiar mistake of placing too much attention on a small pocket of people determined to wander through life with their eyes closed." However, this could get "uglier than we ever expected." Orr: "Maybe the NFL continues to be the battleground it never wanted to be, especially as we draw closer to November. ... Will Goodell and the NFL stick with their plan? Will they, like their players, refuse to bend amid the storm?" (SI.com, 9/11).
ROOM TO COME TOGETHER: USA TODAY's Mike Jones writes following an offseason in which the league and its players "simultaneously battled wars on multiple fronts, on Thursday night, the two sides came together and flexed on a national stage, each determined to send clear messages." The NFL is "indeed as powerful and unyielding as owners always believed it was," while the "unified voices and wills of a couple thousand purpose-driven men will not be silenced, and efforts centered on cultivating long-lasting change will not be ignored" (USA TODAY, 9/11).