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Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs begin NFL season with moment of unity









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Players from Houston and Kansas City had a shared moment of unity in the fight against racial inequality before the opening NFL game of the season

Players from Houston and Kansas City had a shared moment of unity in the fight against racial inequality before the opening NFL game of the season

Houston players stayed inside the locker room for the national anthems as Kansas players stood on the field before a shared moment of unity marked the NFL Kick-Off.

Following the death of George Floyd in police custody and the shooting of Jacob Blake, the NFL has watched on as sports and athletes around the world have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in peaceful protest, making their own stand and on Thursday night, the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans did exactly that.

The teams each chose a different approach during the playing of the national anthems before coming together as one just before kick-off in front of around 17,000 fans at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs went on to win 34-20 but all eyes were on how the teams would take their stand.

Quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson led the way as the teams and coaches linked arms on the field and messages, decided by the players, were played across the screen including, ‘It takes all of us’, ‘We must end racism’, ‘We must end police brutality’, and ‘We believe Black lives matter’.

After the game, Mahomes spoke to NBC touchline reporter Michelle Tafoya and said: “With everything going on in this country we wanted to show we are unified as a league and we are not going to let playing football distract us from what we are doing in making change for this world.

“Deshaun is a great guy, he leads by example every single day and every time I have been around him and I try to do the same.

“I feel like the Chiefs and the Texans, that’s the NFL, we are gonna keep making change in this world.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was at the game, had been made aware of the plans and he was quoted on the broadcast saying he “respects the players and their extraordinary efforts to affect positive and sustainable change”.

In July, the NFL announced that in addition to the playing of the ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ before each Week One game it would also play ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ – a song referred to as the Black national anthem – in light of widespread protests against racial injustice.

In scenes that are likely to be replayed across the US over the opening weekend of the NFL’s 101st season, there were differing approaches from each team to the playing of the anthems and unlike with Colin Kaepernick, there will be no repercussions for actions taken.

Kansas City remained on the field for the national anthem while the Houston Texans chose to remain in the locker room

Kansas City remained on the field for the national anthem while the Houston Texans chose to remain in the locker room

With Alicia Keys singing ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’, – a video and anthem that will be played in every stadium over the Week One fixtures – the Kansas City players stayed out for the playing of both anthems, while the Texans returned to the locker room for both.

Tafoya reported that the Texans didn’t want to choose between celebrating one song and throwing shade on the other and the team supported the players in their stance.

During the national anthem, Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor kneeled and raised a clenched right fist while the rest of the Chiefs squad stood and locked arms.

The Texans retook to the field after the national anthem and the teams came together for their moment of unity, the stadium announcer informing those in attendance of a moment of silence “dedicated to the ongoing fight for equality in our country”.

Dolphins criticise ‘fluff and empty gestures’

An hour before kick-off, the Miami Dolphins released video saying they would stay inside the locker room during the playing of both anthems and called the NFL’s decision to play both songs an ’empty gesture’.

The Dolphins kick off the season on the road on Sunday when they travel to New England and in a video, their players said they did not want to part of a ‘publicity parade’ and called on ‘owners with influence’ to flex their political power.

A strongly-worded video featuring a number of players and head coach Brian Flores ending with Flores saying “before the media starts wondering and guessing, they just answered all your questions. We’ll just stay inside.”

Forced into change

Mahomes and Watson were among the players who led the off season call and drive that forced a change and an admission from the NFL Commissioner that things would change.

Both men featured in a powerful video that called on the league to “condemn racism and a systemic oppression of black people, admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting, believe black lives matter.’

Goodell and the league responded by admitting their mistakes and encouraged players to use their platform and their voice to peacefully protest.

Messages will adorn the endzones of all NFL fields across the US

Messages will adorn the endzones of all NFL fields across the US

It was fitting that Mahomes and Watson were on the field to lead the way as the first steps were taken in Thursday’s opener and in scenes that will be mirrored across 15 other games and at stadiums across the league, the end zones bore the words ‘End Racism’ and ‘It Takes All of Us’.

The players warmed up in T-shirts designed by Texans safety Michael Thomas that have been sent out to all players by the NFL Players Association and also wore helmets that featured the names of victims of racism or police brutality, social justice leaders or one of four phrases as part of the Inspire Change initiative.

The Dolphins’ strong show of unity underlines that the players will no longer sit quietly and more scenes of support and peaceful protest are expected over the weekend.

‘It’s about making our country a better place to live’ – Hall of Fame coach and NBC expert Tony Dungy

“I hope we don’t focus on who is standing and who is kneeling, who is in the locker room and who isn’t – that is not the issue.

“I remember in 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Olympics, I was a young boy and I asked my dad – who was a World War Two veteran – about standing for the national anthem – he told me, ‘do what is in your heart and do what you believe in but more than that do something to make the situation better’.

“That is where we are, that is what we should be about.

“Four years ago we were in Miami where Kenny Stills and Michael Thomas were two of the first players to kneel for the national anthem and I spoke to them about that.

“They said they got a lot of negatives but they did that – they got the police together with kids in the community, started ridealongs, had Town Hall meetings they were active and they did things to make the situation better and that’s what we need to do.

“It’s not about the flag, about black or white, it’s about making our country a better place to live.

“I thought the moment of unity before kick-off was important because it was the players who decided ‘Let’s do this’.

“What they were saying was there are some guys kneeling, some guys standing in the locker room but we are all together on this and we can come together to make a difference going forward.”

Coverage of Week One continues on Sky Sports NFL with five more games to come this weekend, including a triple-header on Sunday from 6pm feature Miami @ New England, Tampa Bay @ New Orleans and Dallas @ Los Angeles Rams



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