2017 NFL Week 1 Wrap: Houston, Cleveland remind us how athletes transcend sport

WASHINGTON — The Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans may have lost their respective games Sunday, but they won in a more important and meaningful way.

For weeks, we’ve watched Houston get drowned by Hurricane Harvey. We’ve seen the raw emotion (caution: strong language), the strength of the human spirit, and tales of heroism that arise from such tragedies.

Sunday provided a decimated region with a three-hour diversion from the very real and persistent issues that stem from that disaster. Though the outcome was undesirable — and a far cry from the morale boost New Orleans received in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — Houston got a chance to thank the Texans for their contribution to the relief effort, and specifically face-of-the-franchise J.J. Watt for his herculean effort in raising over $30 million for flood victims.

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, we saw the greatest response yet to the ongoing player protests (which I’ll reiterate I believe is better described as a resistance); Browns players — many of whom were just two weeks removed from engaging in the largest pregame resistance yet — locking arms with uniformed police, military, and first responders as a show of unity. This came just days after Cleveland’s police union had a rather contentious and shortsighted reaction to the so-called preseason protest, and it seemed like this polarizing topic was going to boil over yet again.

While the Browns are generally know for being a Factory of Sadness, mocked for their futility and their comically long list of lousy quarterbacks, the organization appears to have found the perfect response to the league’s biggest storyline. Sunday’s show of solidarity was the culmination of a pow wow between the concerned players and law enforcement initiated by owner Jimmy Haslam and Hall-of-Fame legend Jim Brown — a discussion that appears to have brought about some level of understanding. The pregame video shown at FirstEnergy Stadium was a masterful touch that I believe every NFL team should mimic.

The fact of the matter is, a pregame player resistance is only divisive because there’s a general lack of interest on the part of protest detractors in hearing these players out. The time for talk obviously isn’t during the game and that’s not what these players are seeking. They’re silently motioning for us to circle back to the discussion later, which even still makes a segment of the population (which, yes, is predominantly white) uncomfortable.

So these players are told they’re disrespecting the military (they’re not) and taking away from our happy distraction called football. They’re portrayed as ingrates who don’t appreciate their freedom and the king’s ransom they’re paid to play a sport.

If you don’t see the similarities between what happened in Houston and Cleveland, look a little closer. Though natural disasters arguably aren’t man made — though there’s a case that they are — we shouldn’t be less inclined to listen and lend help to aggrieved people of color than we are rallying to support flood victims (many of whom, by the way, are also of color). The only difference between J.J. Watt and, say, Michael Bennett is Watt is looking to help people by raising money and Bennett is looking to help people by raising awareness.

We have to stop shouting down players with phrases like “stick to sports!” Like it or not, these men and women have a platform and an impact on their respective communities. Social issues affect us all, including the rich and famous, and celebrities with something thoughtful to say shouldn’t be discounted because they’re professional athletes. If anything, their wealth and influence (especially in states like Texas and Florida where there’s no income tax) should make them more accountable than they’ve been asked to be in previous years; they should be viewed as potential assets to social causes, not noise to be tamped down.

Of course, if you’re all about football, it’s worth pointing out that the Texans’ QB situation is why Jacksonville beat them 29-7, not Watt’s huge fundraising effort, while teams with players that engaged in silent resistance Sunday were 3-2.

Now for the updated NFL Week 1 Recap.

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Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on WTOP.com.

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