Once in a while, it’s okay to break the rules.
At least that’s the way Tennessee Titans coach Mike Mularkey looked at it when he found out linebacker Avery Williamson had planned to wear custom-made cleats in Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings.
The game fell on Sept. 11, the 15-year anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., and Williamson was going to wear patriotic Nikes meant to honor those who died in the event.
Williamson changed plans after he heard that the NFL would fine him for violating the uniform code, not wanting to bring negative attention to a positive thing. But then he ended up wearing the shoes after receiving a large amount of support, including from Mularkey, who told him to wear the shoes and not to worry about the fine.
“Well, I said, ‘I’m going to shoot you straight like I shoot everybody straight. If you don’t wear those shoes, I’ll be very disappointed in you. Because all I want from you guys is to do things the right way,’” Mularkey told the media on Monday. “And him wearing those shoes is doing something the right way.”
“If he gets a fine, I’m going to take care of that.”
The NFL has a strict uniform code, including the demand that all teammates must wear the same color scheme on their shoes. Break the code and a player draws a fine.
That being said, the fine is pretty minimal, allowing for players to make tributes on special occasions for a relatively small fee. Last season, two Pittsburgh Steelers were fined $5,787 each for first-time uniform violations — running back DeAngelo Williams was punished for wearing “Find the Cure” in his eye black to promote breast cancer awareness, and cornerback Williams Gay drew his fine for wearing purple cleats to raise awareness about domestic violence.
It might seem silly to fine players for these types of charitable tributes, but it makes sense on some level as it keeps things simple for the league. Even though an individual uniform change like Williamson’s might not seem like a big deal and might be for a good cause, if the NFL opened that door there is no telling what players would want to wear. The NFL doesn’t want to have to sort through all sorts of individual requests, so it just bans all of it.
But as in Williamson’s case, the player ends up not having to pay a dime. In addition to Mularkey, several teammates offered to help pay the fine, as did four New York and New Jersey police associations, including the union that represents the department that patrols the World Trade Center.
“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 said.
Williamson wanted to make a statement, a tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11. That’s a pretty cool thing, and even cooler how others banded together to support his efforts. And while the NFL will more than likely fine him, it’s such a small penalty that it’s really just lip service to limit these cases from coming up, as opposed to being a deterrent to stopping them altogether.