The NFL tried to rule at least one 9/11 tribute out of bounds on opening weekend. Tennessee Titans linebacker Avery Williamson, who starred in college at the University of Kentucky, was told to shelve a pair of cleats he planned to wear to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
But he wore them anyhow.
According to The Tennessean, Williamson was informed by the league he would be fined for a uniform violation if he wore the shoes. Several New York and New Jersey police associations offered to help pay the fine if he went ahead and wore the cleats.
“I just felt like I got so much support across the country, and especially when the New York and New Jersey police unions said that they would pay my fine, that really meant a lot,” Williamson told The Tennessean after the game, “so I felt like if I didn’t wear them, I just wouldn’t have felt good about it. I felt like I had to do that, just for myself and to represent the people that were lost and the people that do their jobs every day to protect us. I feel like it was just a duty.”
Williamson finished with six tackles in the Titans’ 25-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Tennessee’s defense didn’t give up a touchdown in the loss. The Vikings scored on a 77-yard interception return and a 24-yard fumble return.
“I thought we played as solid as we could, but we just have to get turnovers,” Williamson said. “That’s the only thing that we didn’t do. That can change a game. Just like the Vikings, (they) had three on defense. I feel like if we had of gotten some turnovers, it could have changed the outcome.”
Initially, Williamson wore white cleats during warm-ups, and it didn’t appear he’d go against the NFL’s ruling. But he switched to the tribute cleats for gametime.
Williamson told The Tennessean wore the plain cleats to avoid NFL representatives approaching him before the game. He said Titans GM Jon Robinson and Coach Mike Mularkey were supportive of his decision.
“I just didn’t want it to be a distraction, and they were fine with it,” Williamson said, “so I went ahead and did it.”
Williamson’s cleats — airbrushed by True Blue Customs in Lexington — were painted red, white, and blue and emblazoned with “9-11-01” and “Never Forget” on each shoe. Williamson will auction them off to benefit Operation Warrior Wishes.