MISSION, Kan. – The roughly 17,000 fans of the Kansas City Chiefs who filed into Arrowhead Stadium for a masked and socially distanced start to the NFL season Thursday found themselves thrust into the middle of the nationwide discussion about social injustice.
The Super Bowl champions had already prohibited fans from wearing headdresses or war paint amid a push for more cultural sensitivity. And along with the NFL, the Chiefs had planned a series of videos and other on-field demonstrations in the lead-up to the NFL season that were designed to highlight systemic racism and social injustice.
But it was the response by some fans during the national anthem that lit up social media as the game played out.
The Houston Texans remained in the locker room during the anthem, and fans booed them when they emerged from the tunnel at its conclusion. The booing continued as the two teams walked to midfield and shook hands, their interlocked arms stretched from one end zone to the other during what was supposed to be a moment of silence.
“The moment of unity I personally thought was good. The booing was unfortunate in that moment,” Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said after the Chiefs emerged with a 34-20 victory. “I don’t fully understand that. There was no flag involved, there was nothing involved with that besides two teams coming together to show unity.”
Nationwide calls to address racial issues have become more prevalent since George Floyd died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the handcuffed Black man’s neck for nearly eight minutes during an arrest. Four officers were fired and have been charged in Floyd’s death, and protests have continued to grip the nation.
Players from both teams discussed how they would handle pregame in the weeks leading up to the opener. The Chiefs chose to stay on the field for the national anthem while the Texans decided to remain in the locker room.
“We had a few player meetings and let everybody know that we had their back,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. “You know, you can go ahead and whatever you feel is the right decision in your heart, you have your brother’s back, and you have your brother’s support on this team. We made sure everybody was comfortable in that area.”