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As NFL Players Offer Show of Unity, Booing by Fans Shows Objections to Protests 'Was Always About Perpetuating White Supremacy'

"In the past, folks have claimed to be turned off by the Kaepernick-led protests because they disrespected the flag or the troops or the anthem or the country, or all of the above. That excuse is not applicable for the fans' ugly display Thursday night."

The Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs linked arms in a show of racial unity on Thursday night before playing the first game of the 2020 NFL season, and were met with booing by fans. (Photo: @BleacherReport/screenshot)

Following the political right's outcry in recent years over professional athletes' civil disobedience and calls for racial justice, even a measured show of unity by two opposing NFL teams Thursday night was not a neutral enough gesture to satisfy some football fans in Kansas City.

Fans in the city's Arrowhead Stadium were heard loudly booing as players from the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans linked arms and observed a moment of silence "dedicated to the ongoing fight for equality in our country."

"It was as unthreatening and unobjectionable as the NFL could have dreamed," Barry Petchesky wrote at Defector. "The players stood together, silently. And the fans…booed."

"Here were the players doing everything that racist fans claim they want: being peaceful, respectful, not accusing anyone of anything—shutting up and playing football!—and they booed. Because what doesn't matter and has never mattered to those people is how people are protesting, only that they are."
—Barry Petchesky, Defector

 The display was paired with a large sign reading "We believe black lives matter," "We believe in justice for all," and other messages, and the playing of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," widely regarded by the African-American community as its national anthem. 

The NFL's new interest in engaging with the nationwide uprising over police brutality and the killings of unarmed Black Americans comes after years of sidelining players who knelt in protest during the national anthem, particularly former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Since Kaepernick originally began the peaceful protest during the 2016 season, he has not been signed to any NFL team and in 2019 reached a legal settlement with the league after accusing team owners of collusion. 

This year, professional athletes in several leagues, including the NBA and WNBA, have led protests in support of the uprising which began after the killing of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers. 

Although a majority of Americans support athletes' right to partake in civil disobedience, according to a Washington Post survey released on Thursday, many of the 16,000 Kansas City Chiefs fans who attended the game appeared not to approve of even a show of unity between the players. 

The response was "no surprise," Petchesky wrote, saying the NFL's attempts to maintain the interest of the 42% of Americans who believe it's inappropriate for athletes to protest publicly have revealed that the objections of President Donald Trump and other critics were never about respecting the national anthem, as many claimed. 

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"Here were the players doing everything that racist fans claim they want: being peaceful, respectful, not accusing anyone of anything—shutting up and playing football!—and they booed," Petchesky wrote. "Because what doesn't matter and has never mattered to those people is how people are protesting, only that they are. What's being said scares them much more than how it's being said."

"The NFL chooses not to get that, and instead thinks it can walk a tightrope between insulting your intelligence and offending racists," he continued. "It's not possible. Not that this was in any doubt before, but Chiefs fans audibly put the lie to any notions of compromise when they booed a group of black men pleading, silently, not to be treated like shit."

Kansas City Council member Eric Bunch wrote on Twitter that the display by fans in the stands at Arrowhead Stadium was "embarrassing" for the city and revealed the racism inherent in objections to the earlier protests.

The prevalence of booing in the stadium during the moment of silence was evidence that racism in the U.S. is perpetuated by "more than just a few bad apples," wrote Houston Chronicle columnist Matt Young. 

"In the past, folks have claimed to be turned off by the Kaepernick-led protests because they disrespected the flag or the troops or the anthem or the country, or all of the above," he wrote. "That excuse is not applicable for the fans' ugly display Thursday night."

"Others say they don't want their football mussed by politics, yet those same people have no problem with a military fighter jet flying over the stadium before their game starts," Young continued. "Never mind the sobering thought that equality and unity is viewed as some sort of divisive political statement."

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