ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Tonight is the opening game of the NFL regular season. The defending champs, the New England Patriots, face the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots are led by age-defying 40-year-old quarterback Tom Brady. While football fans look forward to the game, they're also trying to digest a number of off-field issues. NPR's Tom Goldman has more.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: During her nearly 30 years in the NFL, former Oakland Raiders CEO Amy Trask loved nothing more than the first kickoff of the first regular season game. Now a football analyst for CBS Sports, she still loves it.
AMY TRASK: All off-season long we talk about football issues, whether it's free agency or the draft or team composition or off-field issues. When that foot hits that ball and we have kickoff, it's a very exciting moment.
GOLDMAN: But this year's excitement is competing with an inordinate amount of off-field controversy about concussions - we're now in an age when head trauma not only is recognized, it's posited by some as a threat to the survival of the game - about the national anthem protests begun last season by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He still doesn't have a job. There are allegations, all denied, that NFL owners are colluding to keep him out. In his absence, the protests have grown. This week, the most prominent protester, Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett, alleged police held him at gunpoint last month without cause during a disturbance in Las Vegas. Bennett is African-American. He says he's considering filing a civil rights lawsuit.
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MICHAEL BENNETT: Do I think every police officer is bad? No, I don't believe that. Do I believe there are some people out there that judge people on the color of their skin? I do believe that.
GOLDMAN: Las Vegas police deny Bennett was racially profiled during the incident. And then there's the case of last year's top NFL rusher, Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys. He's been suspended for six games related to domestic violence allegations, allegations he denies. Elliott, who hasn't been charged, will play this Sunday. A judge is expected to rule tomorrow on a motion to stay the ban. If the judge says no, Elliot's suspension will start week two. So what's a football-hungry fan to do, hang their collective heads in shame or press on and enjoy the game? Amy Trask says in many cases, fans will do both. She remembers last season, when then-New York Giants kicker Josh Brown was embroiled in a domestic violence case.
TRASK: I was having a discussion with a fan who was so angry that this player was on the Giants roster as she stood there - and this is really the honest-to-goodness truth - with a shopping bag in her hand, having just purchased for her son a Giants jersey.
GOLDMAN: This kind of cognitive dissonance, as Trask calls it, appears to be here to stay as a troubled game begins for many an exciting new season. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.