NASHVILLE — The NFL will remember 9/11 with tributes this Sunday, but one player’s patriotic gesture has earned a penalty flag from the league.
Tennessee Titans linebacker Avery Williamson earlier in the week said he would wear specially-designed patriotic cleats when he lines up against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
The special red, white and blue cleats include stars, an American flag-inspired Nike logo and the words “Never Forget” printed on the heel, according to photographs posted on Williamson’s verified Twitter account.
But that would violate NFL rules, which stipulate each player’s shoes must be either black or white, with team colors serving as allowable dominant or secondary colors on the shoes.
The NFL rule book says unapproved shoes are allowable only if “the player tapes over the entire shoe to conform to his team’s selected dominant base color.”
Fearing a fine from the league, and leery of becoming a distraction, Williamson said he decided to auction the cleats for charity.
“I want to wear them. Would love to represent and show respect to my country in them, but I also respect my affiliation,” Williamson said in an email to CNN.
Police groups back player
Proceeds of the auction will benefit Operation Warrior Wishes, a nonprofit that gives veterans and their families the chance to attend sporting events. The current bid for the cleats is $4,350, according to the site conducting the auction.
Two law enforcement groups quickly came out in support of Williamson.
“We want him to wear the cleats and we’ll pay the fine,” Patrick Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement. “He was absolutely doing a great thing and the NFL is threatening with a fine? When is (NFL Commissioner Roger) Goodell going to recognize what his fan base is?”
Port Authority Police Benevolent Association president Paul Nunziato also offered to pay the fine.
He was outraged by Williamson’s plight, given the league’s silence on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to wear socks in practice that depict police officers as pigs.
“You have to wonder, when the NFL allows a player to wear socks depicting cops as pigs but won’t allow another player to honor those murdered on 9/11, is NFL Football still America’s game?” Nunziato said.
Seahawks make video
Speaking of Kaepernick, his NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks made news this week when players told reporters they planned to make a statement prior to their Week 1 match-up with Miami.
Players would not offer specifics, saying only that it would involve the entire team. Wide receiver Doug Baldwin unveiled the team’s plans Saturday in a video posted on his verified Twitter account.
“We are a team comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds. And as a team, we have chosen to stand and interlock arms in unity,” Baldwin says in the video as images of the Seahawks roster roll behind his words.
“We honor those who have fought for the freedom we cherish. And we stand to ensure the riches of freedom and the security of justice for all people,” Baldwin says. “Progress can and will be made only if we stand together.”
Obama teams with Bush
There will 13 games across the NFL on Sunday, with the first window of kickoffs taking place at 1 p.m. ET. The Week 1 slate concludes with two games on Monday night.
President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush will appear together in a message before Sunday’s kickoff at the Patriots-Cardinals matchup. NFL Films recorded the messages when the two leaders were together in Dallas last month, the league says.
Bush and former first lady Laura Bush will participate in pregame festivities in Dallas, where the Cowboys and Giants will play.
The league also announced Vice President Joe Biden will be on the field in Philadelphia with 120 first responders folding the American flag prior to the Browns-Eagles game.
All team coaching staffs will don special 9/11 lapel pins and a commemorative decal will adorn each player’s helmets prior to toe meeting leather on Sunday.