ImagePlayers from the Atlanta Falcons prayed earlier than their recreation in opposition to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.Credit…Brynn Anderson/Associated PressThe N.F.L. opened its first weekend of the 2020 season on Sunday amid a pandemic with a number of gamers kneeling and taking different motion throughout the pregame nationwide anthem, fulfilling a pledge by lots of them to make use of their positions to lift consciousness of racial injustice.Several groups, looking for a approach to keep away from the vitriolic controversy over patriotism and respect for the flag, stayed within the locker room throughout the taking part in of the nationwide anthem and the track “Lift Every Voice and Sing,’’ known as the Black national anthem, which the N.F.L. arranged to have played before games in the opening week. A number of players knelt or raised their fists on the sideline during both songs.Like other teams, the Atlanta Falcons linked arms during the anthems. Several members of the opposing team, the Seattle Seahawks, though, knelt or raised a right fist. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson stood with his arms around two coaches to form a triangle, their heads bowed.On the opening kickoff, players on both teams stood in place as the Falcons let the ball go out of bounds for a touchback. Then every player briefly took a knee, a display of unity coordinated by Wilson and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. The Falcons earlier named John Lewis, the civil rights icon and congressman who died in July, as their honorary captain.Cam Newton, making his debut as the quarterback of the New England Patriots, wore cleats saying “7 Shots” and “No Justice No Peace.”Lions gamers locked arms in a present of solidarity earlier than their season opener in opposition to the Chicago Bears on Sunday in Detroit.Credit…Kirthmon F. Dozier/USA Today Sports, by way of ReutersDuring warm-ups, Indianapolis Colts gamers and coaches wore shirts that learn Black Lives Matter, one thing different golf equipment did as effectively.In Minneapolis, the Vikings honored George Floyd and different victims of racial violence. The staff didn’t sound its Gjallarhorn, which it blows to fireside up followers, at Sunday’s recreation. Its opponent, the Green Bay Packers, stayed within the locker room throughout the taking part in of the nationwide anthem and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the staff stated, “so as to not distract from our message that we stand united for social justice and racial equality.”While different sports activities leagues have been delayed, interrupted and shut down by the coronavirus beginning in March, the N.F.L., the nation’s hottest league, overcame myriad hurdles to start its common season on time, albeit with a vastly altered look due to the pandemic. Stands have been empty, no cheerleaders strutted the sidelines and the singers carried out the nationwide anthem and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” from distant areas usually.Even the sector mirrored the turmoil of this previous spring and summer season, with the messages “End Racism” and “It Takes All of Us” stenciled in the long run traces. After initially ignoring, then coming round to embrace, the efforts by gamers to struggle social injustice and finish police brutality, the N.F.L. reaffirmed the gamers’ proper to peaceable protest, echoing the N.B.A., Major League Baseball and different leagues that returned to motion earlier. Players wore league-approved decals on their helmets calling for unity and an finish to hate and racism.The gamers took benefit of the league’s embrace of their efforts, even at the price of alienating followers who don’t want social statements to encroach on their sports activities viewing. The gesture of kneeling throughout the anthem was began by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016; he hasn’t been picked up by a staff since opting out of his contract in March 2017 and has grow to be a potent image of protest throughout sports activities.“The days of ‘sports and social issues aren’t going to mix,’ that’s the old world,” stated Michael Rubin, a social justice activist and the chief chairman of Fanatics, which operates merchandise web sites for the N.F.L. and different main leagues. “These issues are top of mind, and the players are going to use their platforms. I don’t see any chance of this reversing course.”Still, because the self-proclaimed “America’s game,” the N.F.L. stays a lightning rod for controversy in the whole lot it does. To keep away from being swept into the raging debate infected by President Trump over whether or not it’s unpatriotic to protest throughout the taking part in of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the Buffalo Bills, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Jets and the Miami Dolphins, in addition to the Houston Texans, who performed Thursday, stayed of their locker rooms throughout the anthem. The Arizona Cardinals did the identical, whereas their hosts, the San Francisco 49ers have been on the sector.“We don’t need another publicity parade, so we’ll just stay inside until it’s time to play the game,” the Dolphins’ gamers stated in a video launched Thursday.Other gamers reversed themselves. Baker Mayfield, the Cleveland Browns quarterback, stated he wouldn’t kneel throughout the nationwide anthem as a result of “I have been showed that a gesture such as kneeling will only create more division or discussion about the gesture, rather than be a solution towards our country’s problems at hand,” he wrote on Twitter on Saturday.Drew Brees, who was criticized in June by different gamers, together with a few of his teammates, for saying that he wouldn’t kneel as a result of he didn’t need to disrespect the flag, stood throughout the nationwide anthem. But throughout warm-ups, he wore a shirt that stated “Say Her Name,” a reference to the outcry over the police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky.The occasions on Sunday have been an echo of leaguewide protests that occurred three years in the past after Mr. Trump referred to as on homeowners to fireside any gamers who didn’t stand for the nationwide anthem. Those demonstrations, by a whole lot of gamers throughout the league, have been swiftly deliberate and largely petered out after just a few weeks. The league didn’t penalize the gamers, however the homeowners, a number of of whom donated lavishly to the president’s inauguration that 12 months, later tried to tamp down participant protests earlier than dropping the trouble when the gamers’ union filed a grievance.This 12 months is completely different. Commissioner Roger Goodell in June apologized for not listening earlier to the issues of African-American gamers, who make up about 70 % of the league. Coaches throughout the league have put aside time for his or her gamers to debate their issues about present occasions. White gamers who have been largely silent at the moment are becoming a member of participant social justice committees.Some homeowners have additionally spoken about the necessity to work with gamers of their efforts to battle social injustice. Jeffrey Lurie, the proprietor of the Philadelphia Eagles, stated that many house owners had moved previous their resistance to becoming a member of the gamers of their struggle.“In most of the owners’ hearts and minds, they are really wanting to be proactive,” he stated. “It’s a sea change.”Still, Kaepernick, who’s credited with doing essentially the most to spotlight the necessity for motion, stays unsigned. He received a multimillion-dollar settlement in 2019 after he accused the league of blackballing him due to his protests.On Sunday, he let his emotions recognized on social media, criticizing the failure of his former teammate, Eric Reid, who has additionally knelt for the anthem, to get signed by a staff.