ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. --- Matt Weir owns a Black Lives Matter T-shirt. He thought about wearing it today. Then he thought better of it.
“I didn’t want to get into a fight,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “I came to see the Bills.”
Weir, 34, lives in Essex County, N.J., but grew up in Buffalo and still comes to some Bills games. He was speaking at a tailgate party before the Bills played the San Francisco 49ers. He anticipated the voices of those who support Colin Kaepernick would be drowned out by haters.
“He has support in Buffalo,” Weir said. “I hope he hears that. But he probably won’t. The other stuff always rings a little louder.”
Kaepernick will start at quarterback for the first time since last November, long before he sparked a national conversation on social injustice by kneeling during the national anthem. The joke making the rounds in Buffalo midweek was about Bills fans singing the national anthem a cappella on key downs so the 49ers quarterback would take a knee.
Other reactions quickly offered a less generous edge. Facebook postings included one that said: “Hope for a career ending injury.” Another: “I hope the bills defense snaps his neck.” One more, all caps: “A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO HIT THIS SCUMBAG LEGALLY.”
Those charming opinions are cited on another Facebook posting, called Kneel for Racial Justice at the Bills Game!, according to its publically shareable page. Kaepernick supporters gathered in Lot 4, their cars decorated with signs, such as “Bills Fans for Racial Justice” and “Protest is Patriotic.” They plan to kneel near Gate 5 when the anthem is played at around 1 p.m. ET --- outside the stadium because they didn’t have tickets to get in. They came to the game, paid to park, and plan to drive away after the anthem so they can watch the game on TV.
“We’re still Bills fans,” said Caitlin Blue, one of the organizers. “We just recognize the NFL uses black and brown bodies for entertainment, as long as they don’t have opinions.”
The action is sponsored by groups called Just Resisting and Showing Up for Racial Justice Buffalo. The hashtag for the action: “billsfans4blacklives.”
Blue said the organizing groups support Kaepernick and ask that Bills coach Rex Ryan renounce Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president. (Ryan introduced Trump at a rally in Buffalo in April.) Blue said she understands many Bills fans may not share her point of view.
“This country was founded on protest and dissent,” she said. “There are always going to be people who don’t understand what makes America, America. Kaepernick is doing something that is very American.”
Free speech is American. So is free enterprise. One souvenir stands at Abbott Road and Southwestern Boulevard, across the street from the stadium, offered shirts with a photo of Kaepernick covered by the crosshairs of a gun. “Wanted: Notorious Disgrace to America,” it said. Another one said: “Shut Up and Stand, Kaepernick.”
Bernard Smith, 51, wearing a LeSean McCoy jersey in a stadium lot, was setting up a tailgating table.
“I really believe these fans are going to be rowdy to a brother,” he said. “They’ll try to get him off his game. But he’ll be fine. I’m rooting for the Bills to win and for Kaepernick to do his thing. He has a right to protest and people have a right to be upset with him if they want.”
Tony Hough, 59, wearing a Tyrod Taylor jersey, said: “We live in a beautiful country. He’s making a silent protest about what he thinks is right. You have to respect that.”