Titans coach says he'll pay NFL fine for player's 9/11 cleats

Sights and sounds before the big game between the Titans and Vikings at Nissan Stadium. Larry McCormack

NASHVILLE, TENN. - Titans coach Mike Mularkey was not only supportive of Avery Williamson's decision to violate the NFL's uniform code by wearing custom patriotic shoes during the team's home opener against the Vikings on Sunday, the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as the linebacker said after the game.

He pretty much directed him to do so. And he'll handle any fine from the league.

"Well, I said, 'I'm going to shoot you straight like I shoot everybody straight. If you don't wear those shoes, I'll be very disappointed in you. Because all I want from you guys is to do things the right way,'" Mularkey said Monday. "And him wearing those shoes is doing something the right way.

"If he gets a fine, I'm going to take care of that."

Williamson originally planned to wear the cleats to honor those who died, changed his mind when an NFL representative called to inform him about a looming fine for violating uniform code, and changed his mind once again Saturday night after The Tennessean's report about the situation went viral. Several of his teammates offered to help pay the fine if he wore the cleats, as did four New York and New Jersey police associations, including the union that represents the police department that patrols the World Trade Center complex.

“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 said after the game, "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.”

Titans general manager Jon Robinson patted Williamson on the chest during team warmups, when the linebacker was wearing plain white cleats, like his teammates.

Williamson said he wore the plain cleats to avoid NFL representatives approaching him before the game.He said Robinson and coach Mike Mularkey were supportive of his decision.

"I just didn’t want it to be a distraction, and they were fine with it," Williamson said, "so I went ahead and did it."

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 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 told The Tennessean on Friday. “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.”


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