The opening game of the National Football League’s 2020 campaign drew attention online beyond the boxscore on September 10 2020, as footage spread of fans booing during what the league had hoped would be soothe tensions between players and fans.
Several videos posted online captured boos emanating from the crowd in Kansas City as members of the local Chiefs locked arms with players from the visiting Houston Texans, a gesture billed as a “moment of unity” following the playing of both the U.S. national anthem and a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — which has been described as the Black national anthem — by singer Alicia Keys.
The Texans remained in their locker room during the playing of both songs before coming to the field to join the Chiefs. As the league’s official website reported:
The Kansas City public address announcer then led a moment of unity: “Please join us in a moment of silence dedicated to the ongoing fight for equality in our country.”
Led by captains and quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs and Deshaun Watson of the Texans, players and coaches then gathered at midfield and interlocked arms. Per the NBC broadcast, the following seven messages, chosen by the players, were shown during the moment of unity: “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.”
The NFL’s video showing the demonstration does catch an unidentified fan yelling “Trump 2020” just before boos can be heard coming from the stands. It is unclear whether the boos are directed toward that remark, as some social media users have claimed, or the teams’ actions. But the booing can also be heard in footage the league posted on Twitter:
— NFL (@NFL) September 11, 2020
The boos can also be heard around 18 seconds into a separate video posted by another user, who claimed that fans were not booing:
This video from Arrowhead Stadium shows fans were not booing when players from the #Chiefs and #Texans gathered at midfield for a moment of unity before kickoff. #Texans HC Bill O’Brien also said after the game he didn’t hear boos.
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) September 11, 2020
The league’s stances regarding demonstrations against extrajudicial killings by police have been under scrutiny since 2016, when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the U.S. anthem in a silent, peaceful protest that has been consistently condemned by right-wing media and United States President Donald Trump.
Kaepernick’s contract expired following the 2016 season. He has not been offered a new contract with any other team since.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a video in June 2020 apologizing for a lack of support toward players protesting police brutality, though he did not mention Kaepernick specifically.
“Without Black players, there would be no National Football League and the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of Black players, coaches, fans and staff,” Goodell said.
The demonstration in Kansas City also came on the heels of player protests in other sports in August 2020, which resulted in games being postponed in both the National Basketball Association and Womens’ National Basketball Association as well as Major League Baseball following the extrajudicial shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Following the Chiefs-Texans game, Houston player Michael Thomas said their joint action was not meant to be divisive, but that it was exactly what it appeared to be — a gesture of unity.
“It wasn’t about anthem, protests or anything. We are very intentional, we are very specific of what we are trying to focus on this year when it comes to social justice and that’s trying to fight for true justice for Black and brown people being murdered by police and they’re unarmed and that’s by calling for the Senate to bring the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to the Senate floor for vote,” he told NFL.com.
“And today, going out for either anthem, to us it would’ve been a distraction and we just wanted to make a decision as a team and we decided it was probably best if we all stayed in and that’s the decision we made and we were just going to go out there and play.”