KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Most of the time players stand on the sidelines as the national anthem is sung before an NFL game, but Thursday night’s season opener between the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs was different.
While the Chiefs mostly stood on the sidelines during the national anthem -- one player knelt with a fist in the air -- the Texans were noticeably absent from the sidelines for not only the national anthem but also a performance of “Lift Every Voice.”
That was a decision the team made together, according to Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
“We wanted to kind of separate the anthems,” Watson said during a post-game interview. “We respect the military. We respect America. We respect everything that the NFL wanted to do, but we didn’t want any confusion or any negative flashback on guys kneeling, you know, standing for one and kneeling for others.”
Watson said the team opted instead to come to the field and participate in a moment of silence to honor victims of racial injustice.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said he felt it was important for the teams to show solidarity.
“At the end of the day, we’re brothers, part of a brotherhood,” Watt said. “We’ve had great conversations. We’ve done a lot of great things. That’s the decision we made as a team.”
Some fans in the stands of Arrowhead Stadium didn’t appear to appreciate the moment of silence that was observed while phrases calling for racial equality were displayed on the screens. Booing could be heard as players from both teams locked arms at the center of the field for the moment of silence.
“The booing was unfortunate during that moment,” Watt said. “I don’t fully understand that. There was no flag involved. There was nothing involved in that besides two teams coming together to show unity.”
Watt said he has learned a lot from the sometimes-uncomfortable conversations players have been having about racism in America.
“It has really been a growing experience for our team,” Watt said. “I think we have become a lot closer because of it.”
Texans Coach Bill O’Brien said the statement that was made before Thursday night’s game isn’t about the flag. It’s about recognizing the systemic racism that exists in America, he said.