by Alex Poletti
Photo by Charlie Riedel/AP
To start the 2020-2021 NFL season, the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs took the field at home against the Houston Texans. While the Texans opted to stay in the locker room during the national anthem and Alicia Keys’ rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Chiefs decided to make a political statement of their own, standing during the anthem to show their support for people doing nothing about systemic racism in America.
“Obviously, this is a time of great turmoil in our country,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes says in a postgame interview. “And I think it’s time that someone stood up for the vast majority of people who are doing absolutely nothing to affect change in our society, but still actively benefit from racism. This game was for them.”
In a year marked by protests over a bevy of police shootings, the sports landscape has changed dramatically, with both the NBA and MLB coming out in favor of the Black Lives Matter movement, displaying “Black Lives Matter” on half court and the pitcher’s mound, respectively.
The NFL got in on the action by sharing a moment of unity between the Texans and Chiefs before the game, with seven phrases of social justice shown on the stadium video boards. In classic Missouri fashion, the 17,000-odd fans booed at the display.
“That’s what we’re doing it for,” Chiefs rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire says, who impressed in his NFL debut with a touchdown and 138 rushing yards. “These fans, coming together to denounce social progress and continue affirming their own white supremacy—that’s what football is all about.”
The active protests from players and the league’s approval of such actions is a drastic contrast to just four years ago, when former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick was blacklisted from the sport for kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner and sparked controversy around the country.
“I think we’ve come a long way since then,” defensive tackle Chris Jones says. “And the fact that Kap remains unsigned despite being at least a replacement-level quarterback shows that there are still many people out there doing nothing about racism, even in our own microcosmic industry. Hopefully our stand today shows that those people are still supported by our entertainment, economy and government.”