Teams have time of unity before kickoff; Texans stay in locker room during anthem

Players from the Houston Texans remained off the field during the playing of the national anthem in a demonstration against racial injustice before the start of their season-opening game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chiefs, many of them locking arms, were on the field for the playing of the anthem and both squads gathered together thereafter prior to kickoff for a moment of unity. Defensive end Alex Okafor was the only Chiefs player to take a knee, raising his right hand during the anthem.

The Kansas City public address announcer then led a moment of unity: “Please join us in a moment of silence dedicated to the ongoing fight for equality in our country.”

Led by captains and quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs and Deshaun Watson of the Texans, players and coaches then gathered at midfield and interlocked arms. Per the NBC broadcast, the following seven messages, chosen by the players, were shown during the moment of unity: “We support equality. We must end racism. We believe in justice for all. We must end police brutality. We choose unconditional love. We believe Black lives matter. It takes all of us.”

Texans coach Bill O’Brien conveyed that, after multiple meetings, his players decided they would remain off the field for the anthem. He also made a point that his players made certain to respect each other’s opinions on the matter.

“We met as a team, we met as a leadership group, about 20 players,” O’Brien told reporters after the game. “We met three or four times and without getting into the detail of those meetings, the players decided that they wanted to make sure that people understood, and you can ask the players, maybe they’ll articulate it better than me, but it’s really not about the flag. It’s about making sure that people understand that Black lives do matter and that there is a systemic racism problem in this country. And so that’s what our players decided to do as a team … it wasn’t anything where guys couldn’t agree or anything like that. What I would say is that guys wanted to be very respectful of each other. Guys wanted to make sure that they respected each other’s opinions.”

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt echoed his coach’s comments. He was also particularly happy with the moment of unity, but left puzzled by boos that could be heard from those in attendance.

“At the end of the day, we are all brothers and part of a brotherhood. We had great conversations and we’ve done a lot of great things,” Watt told reporters, per NFL Network’s James Palmer. “That’s the decision we made as a team. The moment of unity I personally thought was good. I mean the booing during that moment was unfortunate. I don’t fully understand that. There was no flag involved. There was nothing involved other than two teams coming together to show unity.”

Texans safety Michael Thomas’ stance was that the team was done with empty gestures and focused on action, which included bringing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to the Senate floor, Palmer reported.

“We didn’t want anything that was divisive,” Thomas said. “We wanted to make a decision that everybody can agree upon, everybody could support. And it was really just making a decision that we were done with empty gestures. It wasn’t about anthem, protests or anything. We are very intentional, we are very specific of what we are trying to focus on this year when it comes to social justice and that’s trying to fight for true justice for Black and brown people being murdered by police and they’re unarmed and that’s by calling for the Senate to bring the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to the Senate floor for vote. And today, going out for either anthem, to us it would’ve been a distraction and we just wanted to make a decision as a team and we decided it was probably best if we all stayed in and that’s the decision we made and we were just going to go out there and play.”

Ahead of the anthem, players warmed up in T-shirts that read, “Injustice against one of us is injustice against all of us” upon the front and “End racism” on the back.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has previously stated that no player has ever been disciplined for peacefully protesting and that no discipline would come this season.

“Yes [I will support them]. We have never disciplined a single player for anything with the national anthem and in violation. And I don’t intend to,” Goodell said in an interview on Emmanuel Acho’s YouTube series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. “And I will support them.”

Using NFL games as a platform to peacefully protest has long been discussed in the ongoing plight for social justice and racial equality that was ignited following the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, on May 25 in Minnesota while in the custody of Minneapolis police. Protests regarding police brutality were further ramped up and discussed after Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Aug. 23.