Kansas City Star staff photographer David Eulitt didn't know how the Kansas City Chiefs would react during Sunday's National Anthem before the Los Angeles Chargers. What he saw through the lens surprised him: several players took one knee but linebacker Justin Houston went on both knees to pray. David Eulitt The Kansas City Star
Kansas City Star staff photographer David Eulitt didn't know how the Kansas City Chiefs would react during Sunday's National Anthem before the Los Angeles Chargers. What he saw through the lens surprised him: several players took one knee but linebacker Justin Houston went on both knees to pray. David Eulitt The Kansas City Star

Vahe Gregorian

Chiefs Justin Houston takes knee during national anthem — to pray, not to protest

By Vahe Gregorian

vgregorian@kcstar.com

September 24, 2017 9:50 PM

CARSON, Calif.

Chiefs’ linebacker Justin Houston is typically private, or at least a man of few words when it comes to the media.

In some ways this was just another Sunday that way, with his actions as usual speaking eloquently in a 24-10 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers at the StubHub Center.

Here he was, ferociously bellowing at the team in a pre-game huddle, channeling the injured Eric Berry as he tries to extend his influence on the team in that void.

“I feel like I have no choice,” Houston said.

There he was, after being sick most of the week, taking oxygen on the sideline along the way to making six tackles — including the sack of Philip Rivers with just under 4 minutes left that effectively put the game away as the Chiefs clung to a 17-10 lead.

“I felt like I was flushing some of the sickness out,” Houston said.

But Houston lent a thought-provoking dimension to it all after a victory also marked by his emphatic kneeling during the national anthem (among a variety of protest stances by teammates) and corralling of Marcus Peters after a second penalty on the volatile cornerback.

Whether you are sympathetic to or against the protests, which were heightened Sunday in response to the ignorant and foolish remarks of President Donald Trump over the weekend, Houston added a new accent to it.

“I feel like people are complaining about kneeling and people are complaining about standing, but I feel like it’s pointless,” he said. “They’re not changing anything, and I feel like prayer changes everything.

“So I was praying before the game. Because I pray that we come together as one instead of being separate.

“You’ve got guys standing and kneeling. What are you kneeling for? What’s going to change? Prayer is power. So I believe if we pray together, the more we get together, we come together as one in prayer, we can make a change.”

His point may challenge another set of belief systems, of course, but one way or another it extends and enhances a dialogue that is getting more and more traction.

On a day the issue underscored everything that happened in the NFL, quarterback Alex Smith was the Chief speaking most directly on the topic, calling Trump’s words “very alarming” and adding, “It’s the same guy who couldn’t condemn violent neo-Nazis. And he’s condemning guys taking a knee during the anthem.”

Alex Smith alarmed by Trump 'targeting the quality and character' of NFL players

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith criticized President Donald Trump for his tweets and comments about the character of NFL players for peacefully protesting during the National Anthem.

David Eulitt The Kansas City Star

And as many owners around the NFL strongly denounced Trump and affirmed their players’ rights, Chiefs owner Clark Hunt offered only a shrug of support, so straddling the middle ground as to say almost nothing.

Somewhere in between was Houston, leaving everyone with more to consider:

Like, is praying disrespectful?

Will people tell him to stick to sports for doing that?

Of all the Chiefs taking action Sunday, those sitting, those kneeling, those standing by their teammates, those with their hands over their hearts as ever, his was the most visually striking and compelling.

Much like his presence on the field a week after in the wake of Berry’s injury he played one of his best games as a Chief.

On Sunday, his highlights included the lone sack of Rivers on what Houston simply called “just a play that needed to be made” and further assuming the role of Berry in trying to contain Peters.

Two plays after a holding penalty Peters didn’t like and squawked about, he boiled over to earn an unsportsmanlike conduct call by apparently berating an official as he contended he’d been interfered with.

Then along came Houston, who helped simmer Peters down … and spoke colorfully even to that sequence.

“I want everyone to play with the fire and light, be you, be yourself out there,” Houston said. “I just try to tell him to temper it down and save your energy, that’s all I did.

“Because there’s no need to waste it yelling when we’ve got to play football still. Just save it, just tune it towards something else instead of yelling. That’s all it was, I never try to control anybody.”

To back up the point, with a smile he added, “If you (want) to act the fool out there, let’s go. If that’s how you play, and that’s what you need to do, be you out there.

“Because that’s the only way we’re going to get the best you, is you being you.”

Something Houston showed himself on Sunday.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid on winning in LA and his team's protests

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid remarked on Sunday's victory in his postgame press conference as well as addressing kneeling protests by some of his players.

David Eulitt The Kansas City Star

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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