Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor dropped to one knee during the national anthem before Thursday’s NFL kickoff game, raising his right fist into the air as two teammates placed their hands on his shoulders.
And then a portion of the fans at Arrowhead Stadium reminded everyone of the reason for his silent protest.
Okafor, who wrote a guest column for The Star describing the pain he experienced following the police killings of Black men, was the only Chiefs player to kneel. Several others locked arms as the song played. The Texans did not come out of the locker room for the anthem.
Afterward, players from both teams met at midfield, joining arm in arm for a “moment of unity” that stood up to its name on the field — but not in the stands. A scatter of boos drowned out any cheers at Arrowhead Stadium, which is hosting approximately 16,000 fans during the pandemic.
Kansas City Chiefs fans appeared to boo the moment of unity with the Texans prior to the game starting.
People HATE politics ruining sports. pic.twitter.com/cmSEgFarmP
— David Hookstead (@dhookstead) September 11, 2020
They weren’t the only boos.
Earlier during the pregame routine, the stadium and NBC’s national broadcast played “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song performed by Alicia Keys as video of the Black Lives Matter movement played on the scoreboard. Chiefs players locked arms during the song, stretching the length of the end zone.
After the video and song concluded, as players departed for the locker room, they were greeted by a mixture of boos and cheers.
The Texans were also not on the field for that rendition, with NBC Sports reporting they did not want to make it seem as if they were supporting one song while “throwing shade” on the other.
Okafor, in his second season with the Chiefs, lost his mother this summer to Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Later, as he noted in his guest column for The Star, three prominent cases of Black men’s and women’s deaths — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — engulfed the country and sparked protests in cities big and small.
“At this point, I’m about to melt down,” Okafor wrote. “The pain from my mother’s death is sitting heavily on me, not to mention the rage that has taken over me since these slaughterings. I’m overwhelmed with so many emotions; all I wanted to do is crawl into a cave and hide while the rest of the world burns down.”
As he knelt during the anthem Thursday, teammate Chris Jones placed his arm on one shoulder, with teammate Khalen Saunders doing the same on the other. Both share the defensive line room with Okafor.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and safety Tyrann Mathieu took the field in warmups wearing T-shirts that kept the message simple:
The two have been among the most vocal Chiefs in their support of the Black Lives Matter movement and in leading a charge in voter registration that has included conversations with team president Mark Donovan and chairman and CEO Clark Hunt.
Earlier this week, they emphasized the reason for the demonstrations that would unfold Thursday night more than the demonstrations themselves.
“It’s not necessarily the gesture — we’re trying to fix something,” Mahomes said. “We’re trying to make 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 people next to them.”
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