The Texans and Chiefs took the field on what should have been a celebratory night, welcoming the return of the NFL. However, despite the words “End Racism” emblazoned at the end of the field, fans in attendance were willing to supply more than enough hatred to combat the league’s small moves towards equality.
Following the national anthem, players met at midfield and linked arms, showing they were united in combating prejudice. Then they were met with boos.
A vocal segment of fans threatened to boycott the NFL all together when players began speaking about social justice. It’s likely a chunk of the same people were the first to hand their money to the league they claimed to no longer support. They sat in their seats, relishing the opportunity to boo players who had the audacity to stand arm-in-arm, showing their support to combat systemic racism and oppression.
All the excuses racists had are now used up. Only one member of the Chiefs kneeled during the national anthem. The Texans elected to stay in the locker room, later joining the Chiefs for a show of support — with both teams earning the vitriol of fans for daring to have a voice.
It was an unmistakable and shameful moment that, try as they might, the Chiefs weren’t able to hide. Whether through editing, or questionable audio work, the team’s official Twitter account desperately tried to present to the world an image of fans in attendance cheering players, not booing.
It’s perfectly on brand for a league that needed to take a stand and copped out. The booing of players is a stain by the NFL’s own creation. Its tepid response to real social issues put all the pressure on players — and emboldened racists to think the shield was just pandering, not actually supporting the rights of players.
“Fans” booed players for linking arms. Step back and think about that for a second. This wasn’t some grand gesture against the anthem or flag that can be justified “insulting America.” It was a simple show of unity, and yet these fans wanted to ensure the players knew how divided the country still remains.
Teams around the league will take notice. Hopefully the majority of them will not shy away after seeing fans in Kansas City boo. The cowardice of these racists, who wouldn’t dare say anything to an NFL player’s face, must be met with resolve. No team in the NFL that planned action on Sunday should alter it just because some voice their displeasure. The league itself should do more, and understand that the Facebook rants of those claiming they’re “never tuning in again” are hollow words echoed in a chamber of prejudice, crafted by those who are terrified that equality means their edge in life is crumbling. That the one unchangeable benefit in their life, the color of their skin, could soon evaporate if everyone is treated equally.
The saving grace is that outbursts like that from the fans comes from fear. Fear of a world changing. Threatening to leave them behind. They boo not because they’re strong, but because they’re afraid — and know that the influence of professional athletes standing on football’s brightest stage shines far brighter than anything they will do.
Still, it’s difficult to accept. It’s tough to see players booed for standing up for something as basic as “we should all be equal.” Shame on the fans in Kansas City. Shame on the Chiefs for trying to spin this as a positive and not accept that a segment of their fan base acted like scum on Thursday night. Shame on the NFL for not having the backbone to unify with real action, instead spraying some words in an end zone and letting players take the heat. The league needs to wake up and understand that by trying to play both sides they’re giving the green light to disrespect players for trying to have a voice.
If these fans had half the resolve of those players on the field they would have shut up, not gone to the game, and refused to turn on the TV. We all know that was never going to happen. They didn’t have the spine to stick to their words and stop watching.