Screengrab via CBS Sports/Twitter

The NFL is apparently cool with Harambe cleats, but not ones memorializing Muhammad Ali

Jerick McKinnon is wearing an awesome pair of Harambe cleats, but they've stirred controversy over the NFL's strange uniform rules.

Feb 28, 2020, 9:51 pm*


Chris Tognotti 

Chris Tognotti

All around the country, and indeed the world, there are card-carrying members of the Church of Harambe. You know the type: people who never miss a chance to offer some salutes, memorials, and remembrances to the late, great gorilla, who was slain earlier this year when a young boy slipped into his enclosure, creating a dangerous, potentially fatal situation.

To borrow a line from Star Wars, Harambe’s death has been a real “if you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine” sort of situation, as he now reigns as basically the patron saint of the internet.

And he has fans in the world of professional sports, too, as Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon proved with his eye-popping choice of cleats on Sunday, for his Week 6 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. They’re in keeping with the team colors, no doubt (gotta love that Vikings purple) but that’s obviously not the first thing that catches the attention.

As the notoriously candid Chicago Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long noted, although he apparently liked the Harambe tribute too, the NFL is kind of a stickler about its uniform code. Not just any alteration flies in the view of the league. As a prime example, Long pointed out that the league threatened to eject Pittsburg Steelers star wideout Antonio Brown for wearing a pair of cleats dedicated to boxing and social justice legend Muhammad Ali. With all due respect to Harambe, Ali had a slightly more influential life and career as far as human civilization goes.

While Brown’s Ali cleats were deemed unacceptable, the receiver was allowed to wear black-and-yellow cleats (the home colors of the Steelers) honoring the late golf legend Arnold Palmer just one week prior. But for some reason?and it’s hard not to wonder if it’s political?the footwear dedicated to one of the world’s most recognized, dominant, and celebrated black Americans was deemed out-of-bounds. 

Make no mistake, the NFL didn’t get the derisive nickname “the No-Fun League” for nothing. And as potentially inflammatory double-standards go, this one really sticks out. It’ll be fascinating to see whether the league intervenes in any way regarding McKinnon’s Harambe cleats, although the Vikings seem to think it’s all good. They tweeted out a picture of them on the team’s official Twitter account.

Update 11:38am CT Oct 23: Looks like McKinnon isn’t the only player wearing custom cleats. Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith is calling attention to an important cause with his domestic violence awareness cleats.

As of this writing, the NFL has stayed relatively silent on both pairs of cleats.

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*First Published: Oct 23, 2016, 1:26 pm