NFL linebacker Avery Williamson has been fined for wearing custom-made cleats to honor those who lost their lives during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The Titans linebacker wore the cleats during their season opener against the Vikings on Sept. 11, The Tennessean reported. He was not going to wear the cleats after the NFL warned him that he would be fined for violating uniform code, but changed his mind the night before the game after teammates -- along with New York and New Jersey police -- offered to pay the fine.
“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 told The Tennessean. "So I felt like if I didn’t wear them, I just wouldn’t have felt good about it. I felt like I had to do that, just for myself and to represent the people that were lost and the people that do their jobs every day to protect us. I feel like it was just a duty.”
The blue cleats are covered in stars and have the American flag airbrushed into the Nike swooshes. They were airbrushed by True Blue Customs in Lexington, Kentucky, and feature the words “Never Forget” and “9-11-2001” in the back of the shoes.
The NFL mandates that all teammates wear the same color shoes. Williamson said general manager Jon Robinson and coach Mike Mularkey were supportive of his decision to wear the cleats.
"I just didn’t want it to be a distraction, and they were fine with it, so I went ahead and did it," Williamson said.
The day before the season opener, Bobby Egbert, the public information officer for the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association, reached out to Williamson about the cleats. He sent the team the following message:
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.
The New Jersey State Troopers Non-Commissioned Officers Association and the State Troopers Fraternal Association of the New Jersey State Police also offered to help pay the fine. Egbert said the police union was "thrilled with Avery's decision" and offered him a personal tour of the World Trade Center.
Williamson will be auctioning the cleats to benefit Operation Warrior Wishes, a nonprofit organization that aims to “honor heroes, keep legacies alive & provide once in a lifetime experiences to warriors from the Battlefields to the Ballfields,” according to their website.
Williamson will also be offering a meet and greet, two VIP tickets to a Titans home game, and an autographed jersey as part of the deal.
“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.”