One of the uglier parts of the NFL’s opening night festivities Thursday night in Kansas City happened pregame when, during a show of unity between the Chiefs and Texans, fans throughout the limited-capacity Arrowhead Stadium loudly booed while the players knelt and locked arms.
The two teams — led by Black quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson — remained on the field for the demonstration as the fans made their distaste known, and in the aftermath of the incident, players from both teams as well as former NFL players in the media have responded.
After the game, Mahomes, Watson and longtime Texans star J.J. Watt expressed frustration with the fans, but it was Watson who was most direct about his feelings.
“We respect the military, we respect America & respect everything the NFL wants to do but we didn’t want any confusion or any negative backlash on guys kneeling,” Watson told reporters.
Deshaun Watson says the moment of silence w the Chiefs was about decoupling the anthem from the message of equality: “We respect the military, we respect America & respect everything the NFL wants to do but we didn't want any confusion or any negative backlash on guys kneeling.“
— Michele Steele (@ESPNMichele) September 11, 2020
Mahomes struck a similar chord but seemed to downplay the booing, which was clearly audible through NBC’s Thursday Night Football broadcast.
"We wanted to show that we're unified as a league and we're not going to let playing football distract us from what we're doing and making change in this world." @PatrickMahomes explains the Moment of Unity between the Chiefs and Texans before the game. 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/U2fhbMBrrE
— Sunday Night Football (@SNFonNBC) September 11, 2020
When it Watt’s turn to discuss the situation, he said that because there was no protest during the national anthem or deliberate political stance taken, than he was confused about the fans’ response.
Texans DE J.J. Watt, as part of an answer about the moment of unity. “The booing was unfortunate during that moment — I don’t fully understand that, there was no flag involved, there was nothing involved in that other than two teams coming together to show unity.”
— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) September 11, 2020
Then on Friday morning on ESPN’s First Take, longtime Steelers safety and NFL analyst Ryan Clark responded directly to Watt’s confusion by explaining that he believes the fans reacted so strongly precisely because it was Black players like Mahomes and Watson asking to be respected.
“They’re booing because you’re doing stuff for Black people,” Clark explained. “They’re booing because you’re staying that police brutality, social injustice against that community is wrong. That’s why they’re booing.”
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) September 11, 2020
The conversation around Chiefs’ fans response has dominated the response to the first NFL game of the season, and the relationship between the fan base and the players who want to be more vocal about the oppression of Black people in America will likely be at the center of the NFL dialogue throughout the 2020 season.