Sherman, Long on why they can't just 'stick to sports'

As protests fueled by frustration, sadness and anger continue across the United States and beyond, discussion continues in the wake of George Floyd's killing while in the custody of police officers on May 25 in Minneapolis.

More and more athletes continue to speak up, but in doing so are sometimes met with naysayers' retorts that they should stick to sports.

For many, such as Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, that's just not an option anymore. Current 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman and retired Eagles defensive end Chris Long have long been known for speaking out about the world beyond the playing field.

Sherman and Long joined the NFL Network's Jim Trotter and Steve Wyche for a second straight night on NFL Total Access to discuss issues related to Floyd's death such as police brutality and racism.

However, with the forum of the NFL Network, as Wyche said, there are likely viewers saying, "I didn't watch the NFL Network to hear about political things."

So how must athletes and the sports media deal with the "stick to sports" argument in 2020?

"First of all, this is bigger than football," Trotter said. "We're talking about life and death here. These players come from these communities and they're not going to leave it at the locker room door. These are family members. Steven Jackson was a member of the NBA, so this is someone that was very close to him that was just murdered here, in George Floyd. So I would say to people, this is not something that we forget about when we walk in the locker room door. And I think from a newsroom standpoint, it's critically important that we have diversity and people of color so that we can help bring stories. Because one of the things that happened with Kap, as you know, is the message got co-opted. It became about everything other than what he was actually demonstrating about and that's the unfortunate part. And I think it's critical that we be able to stay on message and relay to people what the message is and what people what the message is and what people are fighting for."

Sticking to sports is something Long hasn't worried about for quite some time, however. The 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year has long shrugged off those comments and proceeded forward, just as he did in the roundtable forum.

"You know we hear this all the time, we're past this stick-to-sports thing. I don't even argue about that anymore," Long said. "If you hate it so much, go figure out a way to help and you know we won't hear about it so much in the future. But we've never fixed this problem."

Sherman believes those who want athletes to speak only about sports are also often the same people cheering those players.

"That's what's crazy," Sherman said. "Sports brings so many people together and those same people who wear the jerseys, who cheer on their favorite players, they don't think about race or ethnicity or anything when they're cheering on their favorite player on their favorite team. But as soon as you leave that stadium, as soon as you go outside of sports, then it matters to some people. And I'm not saying it's all people, because it's not."

Just as Sherman believes athletes' opinions and thoughts shouldn't be confined to matters involving only the sporting world, he likewise believes the problem at hand with police brutality are not independent to the black community and should be an issue embraced by all.

"Hey, police brutality, whether it's against blacks, whites, Indians, Hispanics, you name it, it's wrong, it's not right," Sherman said. "It needs to change. That's what a lot of people are fighting for. Now, black people have been through 400 years of slavery, oppression and a lot more in this country than people want to talk about and that's why they say, 'Black Lives Matter.' And that's at the forefront of this argument. But, police reform and them having accountability is something that's needed to change for a long time."

Indeed, the sports world in Sherman's eyes is a place in which it's the color of the jersey that transcends race. But that's something that only exists while the game is played and that's a very troubling matter.

"I think that sports is one of those things that really transcends race and ethnicity and all those issues, while you're in sports," Sherman said. "You can have somebody racist and they can cheer for a black player. And maybe even buy his jersey, but that's not gonna change their morals and their fundamental thoughts about how race is in American and how they truly feel. They can turn it off to cheer for their favorite player on their favorite team, but I wish we could turn that off period."

So what's next remains one of the prevailing issues.

The killing of George Floyd is not the first tragedy and example of racial injustice to command an outcry. But will the protests, the discussions, the pleas and shouts for change actually bring about change?

Thus, Wyche posed the question as to whether this is hitting differently than previous instances?

"Honestly, I don't know if I necessarily feel that," Sherman said. "I feel that, we're in quarantine and everybody is sitting at home with their faces glued to the screen, so maybe they're paying attention more, they're forced to pay attention more. It's dominating every news outlet that people have access to. People are just paying attention more. People are seeing things that black people have said have been happening for, I don't know, 300, 400 years. Some people are outraged by it and some people are still sitting under the same notion that, they'll find a way to make an excuse for it. 'Hey well, if they weren't this, then that. If they weren't doing this, then this wouldn't have happened. Hey, if they just woulda done this, then this would've happened.' When you have conversations like that, when you have people kinda making excuses for what's going on, then there can be no progress. People don't want to make progress. Those people don't want to see growth. They don't see a problem, they see an excuse for the action and they feel that action doesn't affect them directly, so they won't change."

So, will anything come from the current unrest?

"Well, it's hard, because I feel like a lot of times, hope is, in these situations, a pump fake. Whether it's marching with protesters, somebody tweeting or people who haven't been tweeting speaking out -- white voices, athletes, they're coming to the forefront," Long said. "I was surprised to know that this would be the tipping point, because there's been so many iterations of George Floyd. When I asked some of my peers why this moved you; it was the casual nature, it was the execution guarded by other cops, the video that was exhaustive all the way through. So with these cell phone videos, hopefully we're getting somewhere. And we have white voices speaking out in sports. I do want to commend those guys, because all we do is ask where are they and when they're here, I don't want to knock them down. I would just hope they say something. Some of these college football coaches, some of these corporations speaking out, they're making statements, it's almost like they're checking a box. Say something of substance, call out police brutality, call out these forces, call out police unions. Talk about specifically what's going on. And then don't just make a cameo in this thing. If you're moved by George Floyd, I can show you a hundred George Floyds. So, stay in it and, now, what's next?"

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