The sports world, much like America, remains at a crossroads.
In the wake of a police officer shooting Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, several NFL teams opted to cancel practices Thursday as conversations surrounding social justice, race relations and reform continue. Thursday's broadcast of Inside Training Camp LIVE featured interviews with members of the NFL community and beyond to discuss the latest protests, including NBA players electing not to play in playoff games, and how to effect change.
Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, with his entire team standing behind him, explained why they canceled Thursday's scrimmage, set to be their first at SoFi Stadium:
"The last 24 hours have been really, in some ways, frustrating with what's going on around the country right now. It seems like the more work we put in, sometimes, it seems like the worse we get. But we're not going to be defeated by what's going on. We're going to keep fighting for what's right. This team is committed to fighting for a championship and social justice. We just had a team meeting in the locker room right now and we're not going to scrimmage today. We're going to do something different. I thought what we did in the locker room in the last hour was 10 times more powerful than what we could have done on the football field today, so that's where we're at right now."
Chargers defensive tackle Damion Square offered perspective on what he and his teammates hope to accomplish with their demonstration:
"This is a very, very difficult situation. When I woke up this morning I had it on my mind, I saw a few headlines of guys taking a stand, using their platform to bring awareness to the situation. At first I thought it wouldn't do much to miss a practice. I didn't think that would bring awareness to a situation like we would want it to be. I thought that practicing and maybe addressing the media after practice would do more. But then I also didn't want to give the media the opportunity to stand in the middle of us and the MLB and the NBA, because they are our brothers. We are a sports culture that for many years have figured out a way to exist among each other, no matter our skin color, no matter our background and things like that. So I got to stand with them. I got to stand with them, I got to stand for them. And we cannot show any division in this fight and what we're trying to get this country to be like. We want this country to move forward. We want this country to respect and have integrity and until that happens we're going to stand for something and we're going to use our platform."
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks shed light on what white players in his locker room are saying and how the team is working to be united:
"It's important for us to understand that they cannot walk in our shoes. Obviously they can know these things are happening and want to fix it but they recognize that these are issues that they can't relate to. They actually have an advantage because they are on a team where it combines people from all different socioeconomic backgrounds and we're forced to work together for a common goal not a lot of people have those opportunities. So it's a blessing that we all have this opportunity to be on a team together, discussing these issues. But now the conversation on our end has kind of turned. We want to make the maximum amount of impact, we want to make these changes feasible. We want to learn more about what's going on, whether it's the judicial system, whether its police reform or XYZ, education, it goes on and on, we want to get a grasp of these things that we have going on and attack them in the best way we can. And that's the conversations we're having. We're not perfect, we don't know how to do it exactly, but we are the bridge to our communities and it is important, and it is on everyone's mind."
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who spoke out against institutional racism in May following the killing of George Floyd, joined the show and shared how he's been impacted by seeing his Black teammates still suffering:
"To speak the obvious, I'll never physically have to endure what maybe them or their families or their kids have to endure being a Black man in this country. I can't fully relate to that same level. But I can show that I care, I can show that I have empathy, that I want to grow, I want to understand, I want to be, to some extent, part of the solution, whatever that looks like. Just trying to hear them out. The hardest part for me, honestly, is how much this hurts so many people. And how many heavy hearts there truly are. For me, I feel the same pain they feel when they go through these times. The sad reality is in this day and age, with cell phone cameras and all those things, is now we're seeing these things on tape, but the sad reality is who knows how many things are and have been going on for years that aren't caught on camera. There's just so much unknown right now and my heart is heavy and I know a lot of guys in this locker room feel the same way."
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Robert Woods revealed why his team decided to practice Thursday and the dialogue being had in the locker room:
"We decided we wanted to actually be an actual change. We wanted to figure out how we can actually go out in our communities and implement these changes, whether it's going down to meet with the mayor, going down to our school board system, actually going out and getting involved. We see what the NBA did. We see what baseball did. Some teams cancelling practice. My thing is this: If you're gonna cancel practice, go out and get some action done. Dedicate your time somewhere else. That's what we were discussing this morning, just going out, finding ways whether to create a fund or have every NFL team match or have the NFL match and go out and directly give our time and investments to these organizations we actually want to see change in. It's a big political year, a big political season. That's why I'm wearing my Rock The Vote shirt, getting everyone involved. You need players to go out and vote. You need people to go out and vote. It starts with the laws. We have to go out and make changes and like I said it starts there."
Dr. Harry Edwards, a sociologist and civil rights activist for more than 50 years, discussed what measures sports figures can take beyond protesting:
"I've talked to the players in the NBA, I've talked to coaches, I've even talked to a couple owners in the NBA trying to get everybody on the same page. Ultimately what it comes down to is leveraging the power, economically, politically and so forth that you have as a league, as players, to actually compel change. If an NBA owner picks up the telephone in his state and calls the governor, the governor is going to pick up. If Steph Curry and Draymond Green walk into the mayor's office, the mayor is going to be there. It's not like just another activist group trying to do something about the 147 Black men, women and children unarmed who are shot down on the cover of the badge every year in this country since 1968. They have a tremendous platform, they have the spotlight now, they have substantial power. The thing is going to be how do we get owners, players, sponsors, everybody on the same page, leveraging sports as a way of generating change, as a way of moving from protest to progress."
NFL Network analyst and former NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew explained why he lives in constant fear and wants to see less talk and more action:
"These conversations, you have to have these conversations. But I feel like having that time to converse is over. It needs to be about actions. We have been having conversations long before 2020. ... I've had this conversations with my sons and nephews multiple times that were living with me, I've had these conversations when George Floyd was murdered, why do we have to keep having these conversations? I think (Los Angeles Clippers coach) Doc Rivers put it perfectly, and Mike Garafolo no disrespect to you but you don't have to have those conversations, you don't have to tell your son how to act when he gets pulled over, the same way my mother taught me, and the same way my grandfather taught her and my uncles, and so forth. That is the problem. Why do we keep having to have these conversations? There needs to be action taken. In Wisconsin, a Black man was shot seven times, unarmed. There was a young white male who had an AR-15 kill people and nothing happened to him. Those are the issues these players are seeing. There is an issue, and if you can't see it you're part of the problem. As a Black man in America, forget football, forget everything else, every day I wake up scared, every day I wake up in fear of my life that I may make a wrong turn, I may be in the wrong neighborhood and I may get pulled over, my life may end. We shouldn't have to live that way, regardless of how much money I have or how much money I don't have, what my platform is or what it isn't, every day as a Black man from players to political people to teachers, whatever you may see or whoever's in your life, that Black person wakes up in fear every day, and that is a problem."
Fellow retired NFL player and NFL Network analyst Andrew Hawkins delivered a message to the "stick-to-sports" crowd:
"For people that want to say, I want to get away in sports. I hope they understand that for the Black players in the NFL, the Black players in the NBA and all across the country, there is no getting away. Race is something that I literally have to wake up every day and think about, and it's not by choice. As much as a burden you may feel in these times, and when you watch certain television programs, that burden for us is 24-7. Having to have that conversation with my 8-year-old son, it's a day that I've dreaded since he's been born … and it hurts. It hurts. The innocence of a kid and how sweet they are, and the children and the world you want to create for them, it's disheartening to know that there's no place to go for refuge from it. There's no bubble I can keep them in, as much as I home-school them, keep them at home, prevent them from going to certain places, don't let them play with toy guns, don't let them play video games with shooting, just in case he enjoys it and wants to play with a toy gun in public. When I was in the league in 2014 and I wore a T-shirt calling for justice for the murder of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old playing with a fake, toy gun in the park and was shot instantly, and then I see the situation in Kenosha, Wisconsin where a young man could walk around with an AR-15 and it not be a problem, that is the difference. As much as the players have to lose, because they do, again, these are people who are revered, who make a ton of money, this isn't something they're doing on a whim, these demonstrations, these protests, this speaking out, isn't for popularity. Most times it is because these are team players, and you cannot separate the players from the community that they come from. It doesn't matter what height they climb to, it doesn't matter how many fans they garner, these are team players. It's the reason why you love them, it's the reason why you cheer them on Sundays, you cheer them on during basketball games because they understand that for the greater good of the team, they have to do what they have to do. Now because these are the only Black people that you might listen to because they're on TV, because they do play sports, because they do play for your favorite sports team, or they play for the team that represents your city, they are still the team players the same way you love them when it comes to their community. They are the voices for the people that grow up how they grew up, they are the voices for the people that look like them. And I hope they understand that the on-field, the on-court demonstrations, that was the bargain. And what the NBA players have done is taken it to the next level. At some point, someone's got to listen. Otherwise they're going to continue to do what they need to do with their influence, with their platform, with the only leverage that they have to try to effect systemic change."
NFL Network analyst Scott Pioli, a former NFL general manager who serves on the advisory committee for the Black College Football Hall of Fame, stressed the importance of education and relationship between white and Black people:
"I have read book after book after book my entire lifetime. But it wasn't until I became proximate -- proximate to the truth, proximate to the life, that I could begin to understand a little bit. Steve [Wyche], Mike [Robinson] and Steve [Smith], I will never, ever understand ... or feel what you feel. And for that I'm sorry. But people who look like me can help. What we need to do is educate ourselves, educate ourselves about the truth. We're talking about policing -- and we can go on for hours here, we can talk about policing -- we have to understand how policing in this country started, and why it started. We have to understand, in the 1800s, post-Civil War, we re-enslaved thousands upon hundreds of thousands and millions of more Black people through a legal system that we created intentionally to re-enslave people. That system is what created wealth. That system, that we lived on the blood of Black people, is what created the wealth of America, that created all these other systems. Those systems were created because we arrested people and jailed people that could not get help, that could not afford to get out of jail. And we used that system to build. That is part of the underlying truth that people that don't look like me know more than people that look like me, and they hold that, they harbor that, they know that. They know what has happened to them. And again, I will never feel what you feel. I can learn and understand and put myself proximately to my Black brothers and sisters and truly learn. Education isn't just about reading a book or just trying to learn the truth academically. It takes proximity. It takes working, living along and seeing what happens to people. There's so much that we need to do."
Morehouse College professor David Wall Rice commended teams and athletes for breaking from their scheduled games and practices to take a stance against systemic racism:
"It's encouraging. Because I think that what becomes so important in spaces like this is that platforms are used and leveraged. What we're dealing with is something that's, you hear this conversation of why is this continuing to happen to us? It really is that it hasn't stopped. What we're talking about is not even just social justice. We're talking about basic fundamental humanity and we're talking about racial violence that's visited on people of color and people who are understood as being in the margins. We know that much of the sports world is comprised by people who are defined as such, so seeing athletes and seeing folks who are suing their pulpit to exert accountability of the community, the larger community that we belong to, is encouraging and important. The thing that I resonate with is how important it is to be vocal in this moment and how is it that we're going to amplify our platform so that there is some type of systemic change to the systemic racism that we experience."
Author and professor Michael Eric Dyson was a Thursday guest on Good Morning Football and pointed out how crucial it is for Americans who might have been passive in the past to speak up and take action:
"Let's not put it on the backs of Black and brown people who are already exhausted form decades, if not centuries, collectively speaking, of having articulated this. Let's let white brothers and sisters who've had the luxury of comfort and innocence and neutrality finally speak up. Tom Brady, where are you? You're throwing a pigskin to Black receivers. But can they receive your vocal support, sir? You are the G.O.A.T., the greatest of all time. Don't just do it outside. ... Aaron Rodgers, I'm glad you spoke out in Kenosha. Don't make it one time. Make it something serious. If we have serious white athletes raising their voices and saying enough is enough, the dime is, so to speak is pushed down further, the needle is pushed forward, and every day white brothers and sisters can make a difference when you become allies who articulate your viewpoints and become co-conspirators with Black people and brown people and yellow and red people, in the transformation of American society. I know it's in your heart. Put it on your tongue. Let the ears of America be split with your piercing and poignant words that suggest that you're more than feeling empathetic, you're feeling motivated to make a difference. Imagine if these were white kids coming home with toe tags. Imagine if predominantly white men and women were being shot -- I mean proportionately. We know that a number of white people already are, but disproportionately to your population. Imagine if this were white people. You wouldn't be so sanguine. You wouldn't be so reserved. You wouldn't say, yeah, it's pretty bad, we got to do something. You would be outraged. So imagine walking a mile in the moccasins of another human being who is subjected to something that they cannot control."
Dr. Todd Boyd, a professor of critical studies at USC as well as an author and media commentator, joined Patrick Claybon on Thursday's NFL Total Access and put into perspective the shift in athletes protesting collectively rather than as individuals and how it's having a greater impact:
"I think what you're seeing now is a recognition on the part of athletes that they may be athletes, but they're citizens also. And when the game is over, when practice is done, when they go back to their families, when they go back to their communities, they're citizens. They might be athletes and people might know who they are because of their participation in various sports, but they'e citizens and they feel a connection to what's going on and they want to use their visibility as a way to make a broader statement. I think the understanding of this, the recognition of this is really profound. And for people paying attention it's not just sports as entertainment, but it's a recognition that athletes are humans and they have ideas and beliefs and things they want to stand up for and because sports is so visible, because it's such a broad platform, particularly right now. We're still in a pandemic, people are sheltered at home in a lot of cases, quarantined, activity has certainly been minimized. So when you can take the attention of the public and direct it this way, I think it speaks a great deal to the power and authority that these individuals have and a willingness to use that to make a broader point, to make it about something beyond themselves."