In less than 14 days, the Kansas City Chiefs are scheduled to begin their Super Bowl title defense by welcoming the Houston Texans to Arrowhead Stadium. Short of a playoff game, there might not be a date on the NFL calendar with more people watching than opening night.
That platform has become increasingly important over the past few months — and especially this week, in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The investigation of the incident is ongoing. In a now-viral video (WARNING: graphic), a police officer follows Blake to his car, and after Blake reached into the car, the officer shot Blake in the back seven times. It has been reported that Blake is at least temporarily paralyzed.
The incident led to the Detroit Lions cancelling practice last Tuesday and the Milwaukee Bucks boycotting their playoff game on Wednesday. The NBA stopped its playoffs until Saturday in order to have discussions about “action items.” The NHL paused its playoffs and nine NFL teams cancelled practice on Thursday as they considered their next steps. Late on Thursday afternoon, the Baltimore Ravens released a comprehensive statement on their official Twitter account.
Now eyes turn to the Chiefs and Texans, as they get ready for the first game of the NFL season.
Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said the team is going to practice today and whether they play the season-opener against the Chiefs: "Anything is possible."— SportsRadio 610 (@SportsRadio610) August 29, 2020
O'Brien said the team is having good conversations. #TexansCamp
Had the game been scheduled for this past Thursday, it might not have been played. The NFL entered new territory this offseason by acknowledging it was wrong in the way its handled social justice and systemic racism issues in the past, so it is hard to believe it would have pushed forward with business as usual while other leagues paused to talk about the incident.
But now — with the game 12 days away — many are left wondering what the Texans and Chiefs will do if it is kept as scheduled. There will no doubt be acknowledgement of the NFL’s efforts during the pregame.
Will Chiefs players choose to kneel during the National Anthem? That has been a recurring question — and as the game draws near, it will continue to be one.
On Friday, Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark told reporters that there had yet to be internal discussions on the topic.
“It’s too early for that,” Clark said. “There’s been conversations, of course, but there’s been a lot of focus on football, too. We spent so much time away from this and dealing with it — this is something that we are going to continue to deal with. That’s what you have to understand. That’s what I understand. Our country, if they think that another black man isn’t going to get killed by a police officer, I feel like everyone is confused. If we don’t think that it’s going to happen again and continue to happen, then we’re confused. It’s just at this point, we have to do something about it. And like you said, it’s just—we’re going to be confused. This is just crazy, you know.”
Clark’s quote is telling, as he begins with something on the surface — the gesture of kneeling — and by its end, finds himself in another place entirely: profoundly hurt. And that may be the point: the subject runs so much deeper than kneeling as a flag is presented or an anthem is sung.
"As players, we're just trying to use our voice to speak positive, to speak for change, to really speak from the right place."@Mathieu_Era and the @Chiefs are doing what they can to be leaders in their community.#ChiefsCamp | #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/OvqqP4yaZz— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) August 28, 2020
“I”m going to do whatever I believe and whatever I believe is right,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said on Saturday. “I’m going to do whatever I can to fight for equality for all people. And I feel like I’ve shown that over this offseason and I’m going to continue that fight. I’m not worried about people and how they’re going to do negative stuff back to me. I’m worried about doing what’s right for humanity and making sure all people feel equal.”
Mahomes realized how critical his participation was in the players’ Black Lives Matter video released earlier this offseason. He said he discussed the decision with his inner circle and understood that if he was in the video — as the new face of the league — it simply could not be ignored.
He took the platform that he earned and used it for something he truly believed in.
Mahomes hasn’t said whether or not he (or the Chiefs) will take a knee during the National Anthem a week from this Thursday. Owner Clark Hunt added on Saturday that he hasn’t yet addressed it with the team.
“These issues are important to our players,” Hunt said. “They’re important to our coaching staff, our entire organization. This is the time to be sensitive. It’s a time to listen. It’s a time to understand. I recognize that around the league, there may be some kneeling that goes on with the National Anthem, and I just think the country is in a really different place at this point.”
In the past, demonstrations have led to conversations that have led to action, such as Mahomes and Tyrann Mathieu’s push for voter registration and the fact that Arrowhead Stadium may serve as one of the country’s largest polling booths this fall.
The FULL answer #Chiefs Patrick Mahomes gave @pgsween when asked about kneeling...— Hayley Lewis (@HayleyLewisKSHB) August 29, 2020
Let me be clear, the question was NOT whether Mahomes would kneel, but WHY it is so frustrating that there is SO much emphasis on the gesture, not the message behind the gesture of kneeling... pic.twitter.com/rbCFeWZduk
Mahomes explained the players’ initiatives transcend any decision to kneel.
“It became something where it’s whether or not you’re going to kneel instead of the reason why the kneeling began in the beginning which was social injustices and police brutality,” he said, citing the movement begun by Colin Kaepernick four years ago. “I feel like that’s been the biggest thing. It’s not necessarily the gesture, but we’re trying to fix something. We’re trying to get it where it’s equal for everybody — everybody feels safe, everybody feels secure. Everybody can go about living their life and they really, truly care about the person next to him, and I feel like that’s why people feel like it’s become such a thing.
“Every single time you get interviewed or you go out and you’re in public, people are asking, ‘Are you going to kneel? Are you not going to kneel?’ They’re not asking about the actual injustices that you’re trying to fix and you’re trying to help the community with.”
Throughout the next two weeks, the Chiefs’ players will have internal discussions about what to do on opening night — and by the sound of the words from the coaching staff, whatever it is, the organization will fully support them.