The NFL season on Thursday night got off to a dismal start, and exposed the pernicious sentiments of many in America, when some fans jeered what the league described as “a moment of silence dedicated to the ongoing fight for equality in our country”.

Earlier the Texans had stayed in the locker room for performances of Lift Every Voice And Sing, widely considered the black national anthem, and the Star-Spangled Banner. Texans executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby told NBC the players did not want “any misinterpretation of celebrating one song and throwing shade on the other”.

The Chiefs, the defending Super Bowl champions, stayed on the field during the anthems. Some linked arms while others stood with their hands on their heart. One player, defensive end Alex Okafor, knelt with his fist raised.

The Chiefs allowed around 14,000 fans into Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday night despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Kansas City mayor Quinton Lucas acknowledged earlier this week that at least one person with the virus would attend the game but he said officials had consulted medical experts before making the decision to allow fans.

“Arrowhead Stadium is a large, cavernous, 80,000-seat stadium, so we’re able to keep social distancing, we’re able to keep people outside and we’re able to make sure that people aren’t interacting in close spaces and touching surfaces,” Lucas told Yahoo Finance.

The NFL kicked off after a summer of protests against police brutality and racism across the United States, following the police killing of George Floyd in May. When another black man, Jacob Blake, was shot in the back by police last month the protests moved to the sports world with the NBA, WNBA, MLB and MLS among the leagues postponing games in protest.

Player protests have been a huge storyline in the NFL since Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem to highlight racial injustice during the 2016 season. Kaepernick soon found himself out of the NFL and many believed he has been blackballed by the league’s owners because of his political stance.

In June, the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, admitted the league should have listened to its players earlier on the subject of racism and police brutality against black people. Around two-thirds of NFL players are black, while all but two of the 32 teams in the league are owned by white men.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, has expressed his displeasure at player protests. In 2017, he called NFL players kneeling during the national anthem “sons of bitches” and this week White House spokesman Judd Deere reiterated the president’s stance, saying: “President Trump stands with our brave soldiers and patriots who proudly stand for our national anthem and great flag, not those who choose to disrespect it by kneeling or elect to needlessly cover this demonstration – and the American people agree with him.”

Deere is correct that some people in the US agree with the president on protests, but many back the players. A recent Washington Post poll found that 56% of Americans believe kneeling during the anthem is an appropriate form of protest, with 42% finding it unacceptable.

Earlier on Thursday, the Miami Dolphins said they will stay inside the locker room during the national anthem for the entire 2020 season. The players gave their reasoning in a video released on social media.

“This attempt to unify only creates more divide. So we’ll skip this song and dance, and as a team we’ll stay inside,” the players said during the video. “We need changed hearts, not just a response to pressure. Enough, no more fluff and empty gestures. We need owners with influence and pockets bigger than ours to call up officials and flex political power.”



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here