Multiple New York and New Jersey police associations have Avery Williamson’s back.
The groups have offered to pay a fine levied by the NFL against Williamson if the Titans’ starting linebacker goes through with his original plan to honor those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, by wearing custom patriotic cleats during the team’s season opener against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Williamson’s plan changed when a league representative called to inform him about a looming fine for violating uniform code.
“I don’t want to draw negative attention, so I’m just going to focus on playing the game,” Williamson told The Tennessean on Friday. “Once I heard from them, I didn’t even try to argue anything. I just left it alone. I didn’t want to press the issue.”
Bobby Egbert, the public information officer for the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents the police officers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department, reached out to The Tennessean early Saturday morning. His email read, in part:
“The PAPD is the police department that has always patrolled the World Trade Center complex. On September 11, 2001, the PAPD lost 37 police officers at the World Trade Center, the largest, single loss ever suffered by a police department in the history of American law enforcement.
“We read, with understandable interest, your piece on Avery Williamson and the NFL's stance on Avery honoring the September 11th victims. We, along with the New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association, are offering to pay any reasonable fine levied by the NFL if Avery chooses to wear his 9/11 cleats.”
- Rexrode: Titans GM revealing a seasoned gut
- Marcus Mariota among six Titans voted team captains
- Titans vs. Vikings: Who has the edge?
- Titans vs. Vikings: Three key matchups
- How The Tennessean covered 9/11
- How did 9/11 change your life?
Egbert asked that this offer be brought to Williamson’s attention. Union leaders from both organizations reiterated this promise in comments to the New York Post.
Later Saturday, two additional law enforcement associations joined in the pledge, the New Jersey State Troopers Non-Commissioned Officers Association and the State Troopers Fraternal Association of the New Jersey State Police.
Williamson’s star-spangled blue cleats with red- and white-striped Nike swooshes were airbrushed by True Blue Customs in Lexington, Ky. They feature the words “Never Forget” and “9/11” on the back of the shoes, with the "11" representing the Twin Towers. The NFL mandates all teammates wear the same color scheme on their shoes.
“I’m going to try to get a couple of veterans to come to a game,” Williamson said. “I feel like just reaching out to people, helping them, somebody that’s served our country, I feel like that’s a great honor, so I wanted to do something nice for them. I feel like it’s a great cause.”
The NFL is notoriously strict about its uniform code.
In August, the league prohibited the Dallas Cowboys from wearing a helmet sticker honoring local police.
Last season, the NFL fined two Pittsburgh Steelers players $5,787 each for first-offense uniform violations — running back DeAngelo Williams for wearing "Find the Cure" in his eye black to promote breast cancer awareness, and cornerback William Gay for wearing purple cleats to raise awareness about domestic violence.
New York Giants wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz plan to wear patriotic cleats in Sunday's game against the Cowboys, as does Atlanta Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Tennessean has reached out to the NFL and the players' agents for comment on whether they have received special permission or are simply willing to pay the fine.
All NFL players will wear a league-approved helmet sticker to commemorate the anniversary of Sept. 11.
Williamson was raised in Milan, Tenn., about 110 miles west of Nashville, and drafted by the Titans out of Kentucky with a fifth-round pick in 2014. He said he realized how large a platform NFL players have whenSan Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stirred controversy by refusing to stand for the national anthem, in what he described as an effort to protest police brutality and minorities being oppressed by the United States.
“I guess if he wants to stand up for something, he can, because everybody has a voice,” Williamson said. “If that’s the way he wants to express himself, that’s the way he’s doing it. It’s his decision. And I just wish him luck with it.
“It can be used for good or bad, either or, but you definitely have a bigger platform than you think.”
Titans teammates have encouraged Williamson to wear his custom cleats anyway, and have offered to chip in to help pay the fine.
But he has another idea.
“I got some shoes I got done exactly like the cleats,” Williamson said, “so I’m just going to wear them to the game.”