Only a handful of players protested the past couple of seasons. But the issue was reignited this summer with nationwide demonstrations after Floyd’s death. In early June, Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized for not listening sooner to the concerns of African-American players. At the same time, President Trump renewed his attacks on the league.
Broadcasters, who pay the league billions of dollars for the rights to show games, have largely tiptoed around the protests. But in a sign of the new attitude, Cris Collinsworth, a former player who was one of the announcers calling Thursday’s game for NBC Sports, lent his support to the protesters.
“I stand behind these players 100 percent. 100 percent,” he said before kickoff. “What they’re trying to do is create positive change in this country that frankly is long, long overdue.”
The bulk of the N.F.L. games will be on Sunday, and it is already clear there will be more protests. About an hour before the Chiefs and Texans kicked off, members of the Miami Dolphins took aim at the league’s efforts to address systematic racism and said they, too, would remain in the locker room during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
In a video they posted on Twitter, and which was first reported by ESPN, the players said they did not appreciate the league’s empty marketing slogans, which they called “fluff and empty gestures.”
“We don’t need another publicity parade, so we’ll just stay inside until it’s time to play the game,” the players said, referring to their game against the New England Patriots on Sunday.
Playing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before games, they said, “is just a way to save face.”
“We need changed hearts, not just a response to pressure,” they added.