Sean Pendergast

Will J.J. Watt Kneel for the National Anthem This Fall?

Will J.J. Watt join the protests for racial equality and social justice?
Will J.J. Watt join the protests for racial equality and social justice? Photo by Eric Sauseda
Will J.J. Watt kneel for the national anthem this fall prior to Houston Texans games?

Just three weeks ago, this question would have been a headline dismissed as the most ultimate salacious headline porn. After all, the number of players still kneeling for the anthem a few weeks ago had dwindled to just a scant few (including Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills), none of them either (a) the level of player that Watt is nor (b) white.

Then George Floyd was brutally killed by a Minneapolis police officer with bystanders rolling film on their phones, and the world changed in one weekend. Floyd's death has sparked, at the very least, an exponential uptick in constructive discussion about the issue of social justice and racial inequality in America, inequality related to police brutality and so much more.

When Watt was asked about Floyd's death on a Zoom conference with the media two days after it occurred, I'll be honest — I wondered how direct his answer would be. It's not that I thought Watt didn't have a great answer in him, or that Watt doesn't have a working set of eyeballs to see how inhumane that scene was. It's just that we've rarely seen Watt put in a spot to answer about something so serious, so brutal, and so racially charged.

In retrospect, I'm kind of ashamed I even questioned the quality of answer Watt would give, because Floyd's killing was so callous, so brutal, so grotesque, that the sensitivity of the big picture topic of social justice shouldn't even matter. A human being was killed by someone handed the trust of the public. The end. And Watt knocked the answer out of the park:

Since the aftermath of Floyd's murder, and the subsequent protests, many peaceful but some not, entities that had never before really spoken publicly, let alone passionately, about racial inequality have begun to do so, most notably the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell publicly acknowledged that the league handled the entire anthem protest issue poorly back in 2016 and 2017, and without saying Colin Kaepernick's name, he essentially said "Kaep was right."

The door is now open, and it is expected that there will be many players exercising their right to peacefully protest racial inequality by kneeling during the anthem before games in 2020, and if you're wondering just how far that door has swung ajar, know that Texans head coach Bill O'Brien has said he will kneel during the anthem if his players want him to, and Baker Mayfield, a white quarterback, has said he intends to kneel. My gut says there will be many more players, of all racial backgrounds, joining in.

So back to the big question — will J.J. Watt kneel for the national anthem to protest racial inequality? Well, we may have gotten a hint on Twitter over the weekend, when Watt retweeted a random person who insisted Watt would NOT kneel (in a tweet that has since been deleted). Watt did not take kindly to this assertion:
If Watt were to kneel, he would probably be the most significant white player who could join that particular form of protest, short of Saints QB Drew Brees, who got in trouble a couple weeks ago for insisting that kneeling for the anthem is "disrespectful." (Brees would be a global headline level about-face.) The man who's run out of the tunnel waving the American flag before, who at his peak has all of the "Captain America" qualities, kneeling during the national anthem.

THAT would be significant, and I think there's a really good chance that it happens.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast