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NFL’s 2020 opener begins with moment of unity

Players from the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans unite in a moment of silence for racial justice before the start of the National Football League's 2020 opening game on September 10, 2020, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The National Football League on September 10 began its 2020 season on schedule, kicking off the campaign with a prominent moment of unity among players of the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans.

Continuing an active year for the NFL on racial justice matters, the nationally televised game between the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs and Texans was preceded by an on-field show of unity by the teams’ players in which they gathered and interlocked arms. 

During this event, seven player-chosen messages were shown: “We support equality. We must end racism. We believe in justice for all. We must end police brutality. We choose unconditional love. We believe Black lives matter. It takes all of us.” The event, however, received some audible boos from the reduced attendance at Arrowhead Stadium.

Still, the message of racial justice extended a series of notable actions in recent months by the league and players on the issue, which has dominated American conversation amid a series of violent incidents against Blacks by police. 

Previously, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has become far more vocal on issues of racial justice, including the acknowledgement of prior mistakes on the issue, admitting he should have listened sooner to former quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick, and committing large-scale funding to the issue. Goodell has also said repeatedly he wants players to protest peacefully as they see fit.

The Chiefs-Texans game was also the first in which NFL endzones this will be inscribed with painted messages of “End Racism” and “It Takes All Of Us.”

Prior to the Chiefs-Texans game, both the US national anthem and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” traditionally known as the Black national anthem, were played. The Chiefs were on the field both, with defensive end Alex Okafor taking a knee and other Chiefs players standing. The Texans, meanwhile, stayed in the locker room for both songs, with team officials saying the decision was driven in part by a desire to avoid confusion of celebrating one song and protesting during another.

“I thought that was kind of a neat deal,” said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid of the moment of unity. “Just both sides coming together for a cause. And, you know, the story was told there. And so, whether it was the National Anthems, and how those were presented, and the singers. I mean, Alicia Keys [who sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing”] was phenomenal.

“Then guys joining hands together for a cause. And so we can all learn from this. And really, it’s just to make us all better and even a stronger country than we already are. I mean, we have a chance to just be completely unstoppable when all hands join together. And that’s a beautiful thing,” Reid said.

During pregame warmups, players also wore t-shirts bearing messages of racial justice and the need for all citizens to vote.

The NFL opener represented the first event among the four major team sports leagues in the United States to have fans in attendance amid the Covid-19 pandemic, though the Chiefs have been preceded there by entities such as Professional Bull Riders, Nascar, World TeamTennis and Major League Soccer.

The Chiefs had roughly 16,000 fans in attendance, representing 22 per cent of Arrowhead Stadium capacity. Ticket sales leading up to the game were soft, due in large part to the fundamental modification to the traditional stadium environment that the Covid-19 pandemic has forced. But Reid still credited the show of support from Chiefs fans during the team’s 34-20 victory over the Texans. 

“I’m proud of our players, but I’m also proud of our fans. They came out there. They were loud,” Reid said.

The NFL is also the only major US sports league not to have seen any disruption in its game schedule to date because of Covid-19, and reaching the opener followed months of effort among the league and NFL Players Association to create a detailed set of health and safety protocols to govern activities.

NBCUniversal supported the 2020 NFL opener with a broad promotional blitz, and several hours before the game, NBC Sports said it had sold out its advertising inventory for the game at a rate of nearly $900,000 per 30 seconds. The sales totals represented a double-digit percentage increase in ad revenue compared to the opening game for the 2019 NFL season, the network said.