After an off-season of social and political turmoil, N.F.L. players made it clear on the night of the season opener that they will continue to shine a light on social injustice and police brutality against African Americans.
The Houston Texans, who were in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday to face the Chiefs for the first game of the year, remained in their locker room during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is known as the Black national anthem. After the protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May, the league said the song would be played before every game in Week 1.
The Texans stayed inside during both songs to avoid having to kneel or stand. The Chiefs lined up along their sideline while “The Star-Spangled Banner” played. One player, defensive end Alex Okafor, knelt and raised an arm. A teammate put his hand on Okafor’s shoulder.
NBC Sports did not show the Texans’ empty sideline.
After the anthem was played, the Texans ran on to the field to a smattering of boos from the crowd, reduced to 22 percent capacity. Both teams then were booed as they linked arms together in the middle of the field for a moment of silence. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who were both outspoken on the need for change this summer, were at the center of the line, arms linked.
Cris Collinsworth, one of the announcers calling the game for NBC Sports, lent his support to the protest.
“I need to call this game, but I’m 100 percent behind the players,” he said.
The bulk of the N.F.L. games are on Sunday, but it is already clear there will be more protests. About an hour before the Chiefs and Texans kicked off, members of the Miami Dolphins released a stinging video that took aim at the league’s efforts to address systematic racism.
In the video, first reported by ESPN, the players said they did not appreciate the league’s empty marketing slogans, which they called “fluff and empty gestures.” They also called on the league and its owners to spend all the money they have pledged to fight social injustice.
“We don’t need another publicity parade, so we’ll just stay inside until it’s time to play the game,” the players said, referring to their game against the New England Patriots on Sunday.
“We’re not puppets, so don’t advertise false budgets,” the players said later in the video.