The first big weekend of college football was mostly stripped of the pageantry that is at the heart of the game.
The stands were empty, or attendance was limited, because of a pandemic that has disrupted the season.
That didn’t stop shows of support for the fight against racial injustice.
Players for Kansas State and Arkansas State locked arms on the sidelines with their teammates before the game in Manhattan, Kansas. K-State players spoke in a video calling for unity and equality, and there were cheers and applause following a moment of reflection.
A similar scene played out in Morgantown, West Virginia, before West Virginia’s game against Eastern Kentucky.
Notre Dame played a video promoting racial equality before its game against Duke in South Bend, Indiana.
Several teams’ uniforms called attention to social injustice.
Duke players not only wore the Black Lives Matter logo on the back of their helmets, but the “D” logos on the sides of those helmets, traditionally white, were black. NBC reported the color change was made in support of the BLM movement and that Duke intends to wear that design throughout the season.
Louisville players ran on the field before their game against Western Kentucky carrying American and Black Lives Matter flags, the latter featuring the school’s old English “L” in the middle. The Cardinals’ helmets also featured decals for BLM and DR 2 to honor recruit Dexter Rentz Jr., who was shot and killed by gunfire in Orlando on April 26.
In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, six Syracuse players had “Equality” and one had “Black Lives Matter” displayed on the backs of their jerseys instead of their names for their game against the Tar Heels.
North Carolina wore a patch designed by linebacker Tomon Fox. The patch featured the raised clenched fist of the Black Lives Matter movement encircled by the words “Peace,” “Justice,” “Freedom,” “Equality” and “Say Their Names.”
“We’re more than just athletes,” Fox said. “We’re trying to help out with what’s going on in the real world. There are a lot of things bigger than football right now. We’re using our platform in order to help with those things.”
Iowa State wore patches honoring Jack Trice, the school’s first Black athlete, for their game against Louisiana-Lafayette in Ames, Iowa. Trice died of injuries sustained in a football game in 1923, and the Cyclones’ stadium is named in his honor.
Clemson players had decals on their helmets with a choice of four stickers and the Tigers’ opponent, Wake Forest, had “Black Lives Matter” on the back of players’ helmets.
Texas players wore “We Are One” jersey patches for their game against UTEP in Austin. The school song “The Eyes of Texas” received a warm reception before the game after the school decided to stick with it despite calls to stop playing it due to connections to minstrel shows and actors in blackface decades ago.
Texas also required students to take rapid COVID-19 tests on Friday and 95 of 1,198 tested positive.
COVID-19 continued to be at the fore. Big 12 teams Baylor (vs. Louisiana Tech) and Oklahoma State (vs. Tulsa) had games postponed, as did TCU (vs. SMU) on Friday.
Georgia Southern had 33 players listed as inactive for its game against Campbell. Spokesman Bryan Johnston did not provide the number of players out because of COVID-19. He said there were various reasons for the absences, including injuries, suspensions and coach’s discretion in addition to COVID-19.
At Iowa State, crowd noise was piped in and the band and cheerleaders were spread out on the east side of the stadium. Families of players for both teams and immediate family of school officials were on the west side. Spokesman Mike Green said about 1,000 people were in the stadium.
Notre Dame announced its attendance at 10,097, about 12 percent of capacity. Most of the fans were students. Seats were assigned, and mask mandates appeared to be mostly followed. In the second half, a reminder was issued via the “Physical Distance Camera.”
Oklahoma limited capacity to 25% and had a sellout crowd of 22,700, smallest since 1945. The Sooner Schooner made an appearance to add a degree of normalcy, but cardboard cutouts of fans filled in holes in the crowd.
To Syracuse defensive end Kingsley Jonathan, just playing a game — even in a mostly empty stadium with a smattering of cardboard cutouts of fans — brought a sense of normalcy during what has been a difficult summer.
“Everything’s all crazy until I step on the field and then it’s like, it’s just football. That’s all it is,” Jonathan said. “Outside the field, it’s something else, (and) you have to do what you gotta do. But once you’re on the field it’s just football.”
Syracuse coach Dino Babers, like his players, was locked in once kickoff came.
“Next time I looked up into the stands is when it was halftime and I saw those cardboard things in the end zone,” he said.
AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard, John Raby, Gary B. Graves, Steve Reed, Jim Vertuno and Cliff Brunt, AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo and AP freelance writers Anthony Anderson and Andrew Logue contributed to this report.