NFL season opens with patriotic 9/11 displays and a protest in Kansas City

Across the NFL, as the first Sunday of the regular began with 11 games at 1 p.m., the focus was on patriotism and a solemn observance of the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

In Kansas City, though, there was a protest during the playing of the national anthem, something that became a possibility after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began to protest police violence against minorities by remaining seated during preseason games.

Chiefs players locked arms with cornerback Marcus Peters raising his fist throughout the anthem. “After having a number of thoughtful discussions as a group regarding our representation during the national anthem, we decided collectively to lock arms as a sign of solidarity,” the Chiefs said in a statement. “It was our goal to be unified as a team and to be respectful of everyone’s opinions, and the remembrance of 9/11.

“It’s our job as professional athletes to make a positive impact on our communities and to be proactive when change is needed. Together we are going to continue to have conversations, educate ourselves and others on social issues and work with local law enforcement officials and leaders to make an impact on the Kansas City community.”

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For the most part, TV cameras came up with only patriotic displays as they scrutinized the sidelines. Players from the Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans helped hold the edges of the giant flags that are a staple of pregame ceremonies every week.

Some players, like the Tennessee Titans’ Avery Williamson and Atlanta Falcons’ Mohamed Sanu, risked fines for wearing shoes marking the date and failing to comply with NFL rules requiring that all players be dressed exactly the same.

“Never forget” was the message most players chose to convey, whether on T-shirts or shoes.

Players wore red, white and blue decals in remembrance of the attacks on the back of their helmets and coaches wore 9/11 pins. In addition, recorded pregame messages from President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush were part of the observance. Obama’s message was played before the 1 p.m. games and was to be shown again before the 4:05 p.m. EDT kickoff; Bush’s message will be shown before the 4:25 p.m. games. Messages from both will precede the “Sunday Night” game between the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals.

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Bush also was to do the coin toss preceding the New York Giants’ game against the Cowboys in Dallas and Vice President Joe Biden attended the Cleveland Browns game against the Eagles in Philadelphia. Biden, according to the White House, occupied the sidelines along with police officers, firefighters and emergency responders for the national anthem and a remembrance of victims of the attacks.

The Seattle Seahawks, who played a 4:05 game, planned something as a unit, but were not divulging their plans.

Wide receiver Doug Baldwin, whose father was a police officer and whose grandfather served in the military, acknowledged last week that keeping the message clear was important to the team as it considered what to do as a unit to show solidarity with the 9/11 remembrance as well as Kaepernick’s protest.

In a Facebook message, Baldwin explained what the Seahawks intend to do in a video, saying the team planned a show of unity. “We honor those who have fought for the freedom we cherish, and we stand to ensure the riches of freedom and the security of justice for all people. Progress can and will be made only if we stand together.”

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“Unity” was the theme of the day, whether with shows of patriotism or protest. Adam Jones of the Cincinnati Bengals chose not to protest, saying that “there’s nowhere like America” and adding: “I understand we’re going through things as a country right now, but there’s just ways to do it. Me personally, I think when you do things, you have to do it in a unit. That’s my opinion on it and we’re ready to play football. We’ll be standing today for the national anthem today as a team.”