“I have great respect for men and women who fought for this country. I have family, I have friends who have gone and fought for this country. They fight for freedom. They fight for the people, and they fight for liberty and justice.”
Those are the words of Colin Kaepernick, after he first took a knee during the national anthem in 2016. Afterwards, he spoke with media for 18 minutes explaining why he was taking a knee, what it meant and, just as importantly, what it didn’t mean. He could not have been more clear. And yet, his message was hijacked to be anti-American, anti-military, anti-white, and anti-police. Even though that is the complete opposite of everything he expressed.
So from that day on, any semblance of taking a knee – and standing in unity with the movement started by Kaepernick – has been rejected by much of white America. This was on full display on Thursday night as the Kansas City Chiefs hosted the Houston Texans in an NFL season opener that will be remembered for all of the wrong reasons.
The Chiefs were allowed to have close to 17,000 fans at the game (as if the coronavirus is no longer a concern, but I digress) and right before kickoff, players from both teams met at midfield and linked arms for what was called a “Moment Of Unity” following the performance of the Star-Spangled Banner and Lift Every Voice And Sing, commonly known as the Black national anthem (the Texans had stayed in the locker room for both anthems).
Houston Texans executive vice-president of football operations Jack Easterly told NBC Sports that the moment was “not about Black or white. It’s about change.”
Seven phrases developed by players on both teams – including star quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes – were displayed on the scoreboard at Arrowhead Stadium:
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
These messages do not denigrate the military. They do not attack white people (in fact they were endorsed by white players on both teams). They do not tell people who to vote for. They do not call for the flag to be burned. They just call for simple goals, reasonable to any right-thinking person, no matter what their race or political persuasion. And, yet, boos were heard from the crowd so loud they could be heard on television as football fans around the world watched in amazement.
So the Chiefs fans started booing while the Texans and Chiefs locked arms in unity ? When their QB is Black ? Here’s what they think about you #NFLKickoff #chiefsvstexans #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/MC15Noft79
Why were they booing ? This should have been a moment embraced by all no matter what color, race, religion, nationality, tax bracket or political affiliation. This should have been a moment where football brought the country together in times of turbulence. It was a time to show Americans can put their differences aside and come together to watch the great US pastime of NFL football. But the fans in the crowd who booed obviously weren’t on board with that plan.
Is racism and police brutality so American that when you protest against them, people think you are actually protesting against America?
Some people suggested fans booed because they were unhappy that the Chiefs have taken action to modify or ban traditions such as the “tomahawk chop” and supporters coming to the stadium dressed in Native American headgear and facepaint – many fans used the chop anyway. It’s probably no coincidence that this came after the Washington Football Team was forced to acquiesce to the demands of sponsors to change the name of the team from one that denigrated Native Americans. Even if the fans were unhappy about that – and they shouldn’t be – why boo a call for unity?
Kansas City mayor Quinton Lucas defended his city on Twitter, writing that: “We’re a good city of good people. I heard boos too. But we also have hundreds of thousands more around here who respect the message the players are sharing; who respect the rights of our players and people to voice a strong message and who are working to make us better each day.”
Let’s hope his assessment is accurate and not just wishful thinking. Because the message the fans who booed sent last night was crystal clear: for all the attention paid to the racism and police brutality endemic to America, there are plenty of people who are more than happy for things to stay exactly as they are.