Two New York and New Jersey police unions 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 the 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.”
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.
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.
Williamson is instead auctioning the cleats to benefit Operation Warrior Wishes, plus offering a meet and greet, two VIP tickets to a Titans home game and an autographed jersey.
“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" on his eye black to promote breast cancer awareness and cornerback William Gay for wearing purple cleats to raise awareness about domestic violence.
The New York Giants' Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz plan to wear patriotic cleats in Sunday's game against the Cowboys. The Tennessean has reached out to the NFL for comment on whether these players have received special permission or are simply willing to pay the fine.
“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.”