Before the start of the 2020 NFL season Thursday night, members of the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans came together at midfield and locked arms.
The public-address announcer asked for a moment of silence “dedicated to the ongoing fight for equality in our country.” Sporadic boos could be heard from the limited crowd allowed into Arrowhead Stadium during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic – a puzzling reaction to a call for unity.
In the end zones, “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism” were painted, as they are expected to be for all games this weekend. For a league that once distanced itself from former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick after he knelt during the national anthem as a way of protesting racial injustice and police brutality against Black people, the message Thursday was clear: The NFL is no longer afraid of backlash from fans.
“I think it's a great thing. It's bigger than football sometimes,” Bills defensive end Mario Addison said Friday. “I'm glad those two teams agreed upon before the game and that happening to show them that 'we're all in this together.' "
It remains to be seen what the Bills and New York Jets will do Sunday before their season opener at Bills Stadium. It could look something like what the Chiefs or Texans did, or it might take shape in a different way. Addison, though, made it clear that the team will be united in whatever it decides.
“When we do something, it's going to be together as a team,” he said. “The message we're trying to get out is, we want every person to be treated equal, no matter what color your skin is. If we can get that message through to everybody, the world will be a better place.”
Ahmaud Arbery.— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) September 12, 2020
Black Lives Matter.
It takes all of us.
These names and phrases will be on our players’ helmets this season. This is why it matters. pic.twitter.com/9POO35uS8i
Bills coach Sean McDermott said he planned to meet with his team captains – Josh Allen, Dion Dawkins, Andre Roberts, Tremaine Edmunds, Jordan Poyer, Reid Ferguson and Jerry Hughes – to discuss what the team’s approach will be.
"I usually meet the captains every week and we'll talk about that as we move forward in the day or two leading up to the game, as we are, but nothing at this point,” McDermott said of specific plans. “But that does not mean that that's going to stay that way. At this point, all good conversations and all heading in the right direction.”
The NFL will allow coaches and players to wear decals on their helmets this season that bear the name or initials of victims of police brutality or one of four approved league phrases: “Stop Hate, It Takes All Of Us, End Racism, or Black Lives Matter.”
Nearly 40 members of the Bills’ active roster plan to take part, The Buffalo News has learned, as do 11 members of the coaching staff. That includes McDermott, who will wear a decal on the side of his hat that says “It Takes All Of Us.”
“I thought it was great to see that everyone is together on this,” McDermott said of the Chiefs and Texans joint decision. “I thought it was very well thought-out and good to see the coaches out there and the staffs, as well, joining with the players. It's an interesting time, because you spend all week trying to beat one another and to have that opportunity to do that, just from a mental shift standpoint is not easy, I can tell you that as a competitor. But in this case it was good to watch.”
In McDermott’s first season as head coach, several members of the Bills took a knee during the national anthem before a game against the Denver Broncos in September 2017. That came after President Trump made inflammatory comments about Kaepernick.
On Thursday, Texans players were not on the field for the national anthem or for “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black national anthem, which will be played at all games this weekend. The Chiefs were on the field for both, and defensive end Alex Okafor took a knee for the "Star Spangled Banner."
Nationwide protests followed the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota in May. The Bills have not been immune to what’s gone on in the country since then, and the fight for equality has been deeply personal for many players.
“We've had those critical conversations over the course of the last couple weeks,” McDermott said. “Really proud of the players and the decisions they are formulating. I'm most proud of the fact at the action that's being taken at the player level, at the club level, within our organization. To do some of the things that we've set out to do, in a positive way impacting our community.”
Earlier this week, it was announced that Bills players will donate a portion of their games checks from Week 1 to help fund three specific priorities: Delivering Internet access to about 5,000 students and teachers in the Buffalo Public Schools who currently do not have it and encouraging individuals to complete the 2020 Census and becoming registered to vote.
“I think it's tremendous that they are following through, as well as the organization is following through in that regard,” McDermott said.
Dawkins said it has been difficult to toe the line between preparing for a season and using his voice as a professional athlete to fight for change.
“It's definitely difficult, because you want to let your presence be felt, but you also don't want to make a big distraction,” he said. “It can drastically change a person mentally. It's definitely difficult, but, everybody is their own person. Hopefully they choose their battles wisely.”
As for the message Dawkins hopes comes across Sunday, he offered the following: “I honestly think that if people just understand that we're better together than apart, then that's really all that needs to be said. If the Buffalo Bills can can treat … everybody in the building the same way, then the world should just sees that and just try to attempt to love on one another and not be afraid to open up and be vulnerable. Honestly, just to have a big heart and show it. Most men, like, want to be macho guys and all tough, but when you show what your true colors (are), there's so much room for growth. I honestly think that if everybody just stays together and we're unified, then this will be a beautiful place.”
Taking a Stand
Bills players will wear a social justice message or name on the back of their helmets. Bills coaches will wear a decal on their hats. Individuals were allowed to select a victim's name or one of four pre-approved phrases from the league.
|Player / Coach||Wording|
|Mario Addison||It Takes All of Us|
|Josh Allen||It Takes All of Us|
|Tyler Bass||Black Lives Matter|
|Ryan Bass||It Takes All of Us|
|Ike Boettger||It Takes All of Us|
|John Brown||Black Lives Matter|
|Vernon Butler||Breonna Taylor|
|Dion Dawkins||Elijah McClain|
|Tyrel Dodson||Stop Hate|
|Tremaine Edmunds||Black Lives Matter|
|AJ Epenesa||Black Lives Matter|
|Jon Feliciano||End Racism|
|Cody Ford||Alton Sterling|
|Jake Fromm||It Takes All of Us|
|Reggie Gilliam||Black Lives Matter|
|Jerry Hughes||Black Lives Matter|
|Micah Hyde||It Takes All of Us|
|Quinton Jefferson||Antwon Rose|
|Taron Johnson||Stephon Clark|
|Taiwan Jones||Fred Hampton|
|Dawson Knox||Stop Hate|
|Tyler Kroft||End Racism|
|Matt Milano||Stop Hate|
|Mitch Morse||Stop Hate|
|Zack Moss||It Takes All of Us|
|Siran Neal||Black Lives Matter|
|Josh Norman||End Racism|
|Ty Nsekhe||Breonna Taylor|
|Ed Oliver||Black Lives Matter|
|Del'Shawn Phillips||It Takes All of Us|
|Harrison Phillips||It Takes All of Us|
|Jordan Poyer||It Takes All of Us|
|Devin Singletary||Stop Hate|
|Quinton Spain||Black Lives Matter|
|Levi Wallace||Ahmaud Arbery|
|Tre'Davious White||Black Lives Matter|
|Daryl Williams||Breonna Taylor|
|Evan Boehm||It Takes All of Us|
|Bryan Cox Jr.||Breonna Taylor|
|Jason Croom||It Takes All of Us|
|Dane Jackson||It Takes All of Us|
|Michael Love||End Racism|
|Joshua Thomas||George Floyd|
|Christian Wade||George Floyd|
|Justin Zimmer||Black Lives Matter|
|Bobby Babich||Stop Hate|
|Rob Boras||End Racism|
|Brian Daboll||Stop Hate|
|Leslie Frazier||It Takes All of Us|
|Chad Hall||Stop Hate|
|Terry Heffernan||Black Lives Matter|
|Bobby Johnson||Breonna Taylor|
|Marc Lubick||George Floyd|
|Sean McDermott||It Takes All of Us|
|Kelly Skipper||Black Lives Matter|
|Eric Washington||Breonna Taylor / George Floyd|
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