The Houston Texans stayed in the locker room during the Star-Spangled Banner, and the reigning chiefs lined up to sing the "black national anthem" Thursday night when the NFL opened its Kansas City season in dramatically different circumstances than any other campaign in the history of the league.
Not only were the limited crowd of 17,000 fans asked to follow social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic, but viewers were also banned from wearing Native American headgear and war paint in the wake of the NFL following the death of George Floyd Police in Minneapolis tried to combat racial injustice on May 25th.
With this in mind, the Chief's players lined up at the goal line about 30 minutes before kick-off Thursday night to show solidarity for social justice initiatives as a video played on screens in each end zone of Arrowhead Stadium.
Along with the words "It Takes Us All" on the screens, the video showed Alicia Keyes performing the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing". It was written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson, set to music by his brother J. Rosamond Johnson, and is often referred to as the "black national anthem". The song is played before every game for the first week this season as the NFL continues to crack down on social injustice.
Texans stayed in their locker room during the national anthem in their coordinated exhibit to raise awareness of Black Lives Matter and other social justice initiatives. The anthem was performed from an empty stadium by R&B duo Chloe X Halle and streamed on the video screens. As soon as it was over, the Texans and their coaching staff ran out of the tunnel in the corner of Arrowhead Stadium.
The chiefs stood on their sidelines during the anthem. Most of them had their hands over their hearts, though the defensive end Alex Okafor was kneeling with one fist in the air.
The two teams then met in midfield to shake hands while messages like "We Believe Black Lives Are Important" and "It Takes Us All" played on the screen. They then lined up in solidarity before the coin tossed from end zone to end zone.
Many of the 17,000 fans in attendance could be heard during the pre-game demonstrations.
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Members of the Kansas City Chiefs stand united with arms locked prior to the start of a game against the Houston Texans at Arrowhead Stadium on September 10th
Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans players meet in a moment of silence before Thursday's kick-off
Fireworks mark the start of a new season for the Kansas City Chiefs at a socially distant Arrowhead Stadium
Fans tailgate outside Arrowhead Stadium prior to an NFL soccer game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans Thursday
(Left) Reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes II runs onto the field at Arrowhead Stadium Thursday night. (Right) Clark Hunt, chairman of the Kansas City Chiefs, holds the Super Bowl trophy before the kick-off Thursday
Even in the parking lot, the 17,000 fans present should stay away in view of the ongoing pandemic
The Kansas City Chief's head coach Andy Reid steams up his protective face mask as the NFL opens the 2020 season on Thursday
The Kansas City Chiefs stood on their sidelines during the national anthem. Most of them had their hands over their hearts, though the defensive end Alex Okafor (pictured) was kneeling with one fist in the air
The decision to ban headdresses and war paint was received as a good first step by Native Americans, but it has also frustrated some of the Chiefs' long-time fans.
"I think it's a little overboard, but I mean we have to stick by the rules," said Kory Noe, who owns a car in Stafford, Missouri. “I'm a big fan of the tomahawk chop. It's just been the Chiefs' signature song since they started and it will be hard not to if they take it away. & # 39;
In fact, the Chiefs are pushing for a subtle change to the tomahawk chop celebration if they complain that it's racist. It is planned that cheerleaders will first use a closed palm instead of an open palm to signal the beating of a drum. The team usually has a celebrity or other guest of honor beat a big drum before the game starts.
"We have started to work and have started some discussions about re-educating people and making them aware of the sacred position of the drum in Indian culture, but also that it is seen as a kind of heartbeat of that culture," said the president Chief Mark Donovan said, "It's easy to hold on to. Say," OK, it's kind of a stadium heartbeat too. "
The changes in Kansas City came after several professional franchises, including the Cleveland Indians in Major League Baseball, were pressured to drop racist images. The biggest win for Native Americans is likely to have come before the start of the football season, when the Washington franchise dropped Redskins as a nickname.
"I see where the problem is having (a headdress) and doing the face-paint and everything because you're not part of their culture," said Jackson Allen, a 24-year-old sales representative from Springfield, Missouri. & # 39; It's offensive. I can see the problem. & # 39;
The Chiefs have worked with tribes for the past six years to distance themselves from images that might be viewed as racist. One game is dedicated to Native American heritage each season.
Signs for the safety log can be seen in the parking lot prior to the game between the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs
Masked Houston Texans head coach Bill O & # 39; Brien watches from the sidelines in the first half in Kansas City on Thursday
A Kansas City Chiefs fan practices social distancing as he slacks off against the Houston Texans before Thursday's opener
Chiefs must record fans in suites and those who bought blocks of tickets in the stands for their game on Thursday night so that contact tracing can be done in the event of an outbreak
(Left) Super Bowl flags fly outside Arrowhead Stadium ahead of Thursday's season opener. (Right) A Chiefs fan shows a tattoo
Although they're no longer allowed to wear war paint or headgear, the Chiefs fans have still worked their way into the character for Thursday's kick-off
A Kansas City Chiefs fan toasts the team's second Super Bowl title Thursday at Arrowhead Stadium
Students at nearby Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas were among those calling for changes.
“Using that mascot and having this following of mostly white people wearing face-paint and headdresses and doing the tomahawk chop and energizing them and giving them that sense of power and then thinking that nothing about that being wrong is just mind blowing to me, ”said William Wilkinson, a 22-year-old business major from Madison, Wisconsin, Navajo, Cherokee, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara.
Wilkinson also said the Chiefs should change their nickname, although the franchise has claimed for years that it is named in honor of H. Roe Bartle. The philanthropist and two-time mayor of Kansas City, nicknamed Chief, was instrumental in moving the team from Dallas.
Ty Rowton, a self-described superfan who goes to gaming as an X-Factor, often attends games with a foam arrowhead on his head, beads, and a player-signed cape. But he made a change to his costume: instead of face paint, Rowton planned to put duct tape with Bible verses on his face.
A group of fans appear to be doing the tomahawk chop in the first half of Thursday's game in Kansas City
Rowton was stopped by security while wearing the outfit to a training camp, but said he has since received approval to do so. He thinks the changes in the team are an overreaction. He also thinks the team should keep the tomahawk chop.
“It is something that whirls us together and that we do as one. It was never meant to be disrespectful, ”he said.
Gaylene Crouser, executive director of the Kansas City Indian Center, said it was wrong to use "a race of people as mascots".
"It was always swept under the rug," she said, "but because the Washington team relied so much on it to make the change, some of the others are now feeling the heat." I hope this is the beginning of the end of this acceptable racism. & # 39;
Nationwide calls for racial resolution have increased since Floyd died on May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer handcuffed his knee to the black man's neck for nearly eight minutes during an arrest. Four officers have been dismissed and charged with Floyd's death, and protests continue to grapple the nation.
The Chief's fans still managed to get a catch game going in the parking lot beforehand, despite social distancing guidelines
Chiefs must record fans in suites and those who bought blocks of tickets in the stands for their game on Thursday night so that contact tracing can be done in the event of an outbreak.
Michelle Pekarsky of the Kansas City Health Department also said disease researchers will ask anyone they interview 2 1/2 weeks after the game if they were there.
Public health officials believe these measures will help quickly determine if Arrowhead Stadium was the cause of a COVID-19 outbreak.
"This record should help us achieve more, faster," said Pekarsky.
NFL OPENS SEASON OF PANDEMIC Fears in 2020
Are you ready for soccer
The NFL season kick-off Thursday with 17,000 fans at the stadium shows the nation's determination to resume their favorite sport amid a pandemic that has already killed nearly 200,000 Americans.
The issue has sparked passionate state and local debates, including whether to continue college season and how many fans to allow into professional and college stadiums.
While Major League Baseball and the NBA played without fans, the Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs were allowed to open the season on Thursday night against the Houston Texans with a capacity of 22 percent. The rest of the NFL teams start their season on Sunday with restrictions that vary by stadium. Some games are fanless, others with reduced attendance like Kansas City.
Across the country, many high schools have started soccer, but states like California and Illinois have canceled the entire season. There have been isolated outbreaks among players, including an entire soccer team and a marching band in a small Alabama town, who have been quarantined for exposure to the virus.
Pennsylvania lawmakers argued this week with the Democratic governor over coronavirus legislation that would give individual districts and private schools sole power to decide how football and other sports are played.
For football-loving fans, the start of the season is a relief after being penned in for months – an opportunity to meet up with friends in bars, attend games and tailgate parties, or attend sports betting to place bets. Sports betting is expecting a record season in terms of the amount of money wagered, driven by an audience ready to take action after months of lockdown.
Chief's fans closed the tailgate in the parking lots ahead of the NFL season opener on Thursday between the defending champions and the Houston Texans
And with each of these gatherings comes a greater health risk.
For fans, watching TV is safe and a welcome way to "return to normal things in our lives that we love and enjoy," said Ali Mokdad, professor of health sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.
For players, coaches, and fans venturing into stadiums, a safe season depends on what else people want to give up in order to drive down the case numbers and control the spread of the community that could be causing problems.
"If we want to enjoy our football, we have to sacrifice or let go of certain things that we used to do – like bars and crowded restaurants and places like this where we know we are more likely to be infected," said Mokdad.
Mark Donovan, president of the Kansas City Chiefs, said he hoped the opener would send a message to the country that teams can safely return to the field during a pandemic. He and other chief executives had a phone conversation with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in which he expressed his confidence in the team's plan.
& # 39; The commissioner said it best. He said, "You have the best fans in the NFL and I know you take pride in getting this right," Donovan said.
& # 39; His message to our fans was just that. You have to get it right. Sport needs you to do it right. And honestly, America needs us in Kansas City to get this right so we can prove we can do more of this. & # 39;
Kansas City Chiefs fans watch the pre-game ceremonies ahead of Thursday's NFL opener at Arrowhead Stadium
Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, said the NFL had the resources to keep players safe through frequent testing. He's more concerned about fans cheering in the stands. Screaming spreads virus particles in the air. Even with a lot of empty seats in a stadium due to capacity constraints, fans may have to queue for bathrooms or concessions that are difficult to stay 6 feet apart.
Some fans could take the virus home and spread it to the wider community. Attempting to stop an outbreak through contact tracing could flood a health department.
"You will have cases and exposures," said Adalja. “At a large event like a soccer game or concert, there will be broadcast chains in place that can be started and you will need the infrastructure to do the contact tracing. Otherwise it is difficult to prevent exposures from triggering chains of transmission. & # 39;
Sporting director Jeremy Lewis took a first-hand look at the health risks associated with football events last month when fans of American Fork High School in Utah disregarded masking and social distancing requirements during a game. So Lewis picked up the microphone during a quarter break to let the crowd know that the game would not resume until fans met the mask and social distancing requirements.
"If you want to participate in the game, you agree to the applicable guidelines," said Lewis on Thursday. "I suppose if people can't follow these guidelines, they'll end up with no viewers."
(Source: Associated Press)
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