NFL’s “Moment of Unity” Reveals Discord Among Sports Fans


Some NFL teams have opted to allow fans in their stadiums amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy of Flickr)

We support equality. We must end racism. We believe in justice for all. We believe Black lives matter. We must end police brutality. We choose unconditional love. It takes all of us.

These seven phrases were shown on the scoreboard. At the same time both the Houston Texans and defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs locked arms at midfield for a moment of unity just before kickoff to commence the 2020 National Football League (NFL) season. As stated by the Chiefs’ public address announcer, this was intended to be “a moment of silence dedicated to the ongoing fight for equality in our country.”

Yet, that moment of silence was interrupted by smattering boos heard throughout the crowd of nearly 16,000 fans allowed in attendance. Texans star defensive lineman J.J. Watt spoke about the negative reaction from fans in his postgame press conference, telling reporters, “The moment of unity I personally thought was good. I mean, the booing during that moment was unfortunate. I don’t fully understand that.” Unfortunately, Watt is naїive to the ugly truth about what we witnessed that Thursday night: Those boos are indicative to what a faction of fans, not only in Kansas City but around the country, feel about mixing sports with racial issues.

Ryan Clark, former player and current ESPN NFL analyst, went on ESPN’s First Take to clarify for those like Watt who lacked understanding on why people were booing by candidly saying, “Because you’re doing stuff for Black people.” Clark also made a poignant remark on how the moment of unity would have been received if circumstances surrounding its cause were different. It is extremely safe to conclude that if the players had come together in linking arms and requested a moment of silence for breast cancer awareness or military appreciation, not one single person at Arrowhead Stadium would have booed the demonstration.

I guarantee those same fans that booed to their heart’s content on Thursday night would easily be among those giving a standing ovation to a cause other than racial equality. When it does not include race, fans seem comfortably willing to coalesce with what teams and players are advocating for during their respective seasons. And when it does include race, they suddenly become blind to the racial injustices happening around our country because sports is supposed to be their “escape” from reality.

But, that begs the question: When did it become acceptable for fans to use sports as a means to elude the pressing issues concerning our society? My love of sports has never been an outlet to avoid the real world because I have never believed that sports and social issues were mutually exclusive. Like most, I fell in love with sports because I was captivated by certain teams or players, which ultimately developed into a genuine long-term rooting interest.

Professional athletes are not competing solely for our entertainment in hopes of actively seeking our constant approval. They play first and foremost for the love of their respective sport, but we need to understand that they are not limited to being just an athlete. A majority of the most popular athletes in the country are Black, and it is absolutely their prerogative to constantly shed light on racial injustices, whether fans like it or not.

So, to those fans in Kansas City who booed the moment of unity, the good news for you is that there are more fans out there justifying your actions in agreement. However, the bad news is you will be inevitably outnumbered by fans like myself, who share the sentiments of our favorite athletes in asking for a more racially inclusive and equitable society.