Today was not a normal day in the NFL and it wasn’t a normal day across the country as millions seek answers for a troubling events that continue to occur within the United States.
On Sunday, Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man of Kenosha, Wisconsin, was shot seven times in the back by police officers following an attempt by the officers to make an arrest. According to Blake’s family, Blake was left paralyzed.
“They shot my son seven times,” Jacob’s father, Blake Sr. said. “Seven times. Like he didn’t matter. But my son matters.”
This, along with countless other tragic events over the past few months, including the alleged murder of George Floyd, has been met with protests, marches, and a call to action by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. A fight to end police brutality and social injustice.
Yesterday, NBA players decided to go on strike in protest of the acts of violence which is seen across the country. They have since decided to resume play, however, it was not clear as of this morning whether or not the NBA Playoffs would continue.
Today, several NFL clubs opted to not hold practice in solidarity, including the New York Jets, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Chargers and the Washington Football Team.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were not among the teams that sat out of practice. But the practice was delayed for over an hour while players met with head coach Doug Marrone, and then individually, to decide what the plan of action would be for today.
Ultimately, according to wide receiver Chris Conley, the team decided to practice by a vote of 37-36.
“Today, the building and the locker room was somewhat of a microcosm of what’s been going on in this country for weeks and months,” Conley told reporters via video conference call not long after practice on Thursday. “But the outcome could be taken and multiple ways. You could take it in a way to say, ‘Oh, they weren’t united’ or ‘they were split’.”
Conley was blunt while speaking with the media for just over 15 minutes today. Understandably, he didn’t exactly know how to feel about what happened a few hours prior, nor how he is supposed to feel after yet another senseless shooting of a Black man, who at the time of being shot, was unarmed.
But according to Conley, the positive spin on what occurred with the Jaguars today could be that people decided to band together, something he feels is a good thing. While there were disagreements, the act of sitting down and wanting to have the discourse is encouraging.
“There’s a sense of sadness,” Conley continued. “But at the same time, when something happens a lot, you can grow numb to it. And it’s not a place that that I or anyone else in this building want to be.”
That numbness was also felt by receiver DJ Chark Jr. This morning was the first day the Jaguars receiver had seen the video of the Blake shooting. Not being on social media, as Chark says, played a role in why he was unaware. But seeing this act of violence once again evoked a similar emotion that Chark has felt countless times.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but it gets to the point where I feel like ... you see one, you’ve seen them all, because it’s always the same situation. And we stand up, and it happens again and again.”
Marrone allowed the players to express their frustrations and talk about everything, allowing everyone to look for answers. But Chark says practicing doesn’t take away from what is going on, what action needs to be taken, “it’s not close to being over ... We all, are deeply saddened by this situation, and we’re gonna take the rest of this day to continue to talk about it.”
Marrone has given the rest of the day off for players, with the team having met today at 3:00 p.m.
Both Chark and Conley discussed some of what the players themselves had a meeting about. That included body cameras, police accountability and, as Conley stated, defunding of the police — which doesn’t necessarily mean taking away law enforcement, but rather re-allocating funds to other areas that will help stop these interactions.
“A first response to things instead of police, people who can be there for family disputes, people who can be there for mental health crises, people who are trained in deescalation before violence, and these things are followed until concrete things are made a plan,” Conley said. So, that these these things have levels, levels of interaction before police.”
All of these actionable changes must start somewhere. And while many have argued or debated about whether or not a shooting was justified, Conley put it into a different perspective, providing an emotion-evoking message that he wants people to get to a point of understanding.
“This is about life. This isn’t about priors. This isn’t about did he do this? Did he do that? Did you not do this? That this is about a life. And who are you to put a value on a life? Who am I to put a value on a life? And if we can, we need to get to that baseline of saying that a life matters.
“And that had it has value beyond what his warrant was beyond what his circumstances was what he looked like, what was going on whether he listened or not. And that’s the baseline that I want to get to with people that frustrates me more the people arguing that that he deserved it.”
To begin a charge on the level of the NBA, where playoff games were certainly up in the air this morning, and even canceled yesterday, the NFL would have to use its leaders, which, according to Conley, happen to be the quarterbacks — the most important position group in the NFL also happen to have the “most important” voices in the NFL.
#Jaguars WR Chris Conley delivers a powerful message, call to NFL quarterbacks:— Demetrius Harvey (@Demetrius82) August 27, 2020
"The platform, we won’t have this platform forever. Not everyone will care forever. So they got to use it. Because you know, his voice ain’t quite the same as mine..." pic.twitter.com/KURew6ZTVX
In the NBA players such as LeBron James and Chris Paul can bring together an entire league. The NFL is larger, the voices are often muted.
Understanding the financial implications of such a result — the NFL players going on strike — the voices would have to even begin such discussion. Such as has been the case for years, the NFLPA has never been able to come to a consensus decision, and even today, a little microcosm of that was seen in the Jaguars’ locker room.
Conley called upon players of “notoriety” to take a stand and make an effort of impact, something that has yet to happen, even as these issues continue to occur.
“So what would it take? It would take someone of notoriety standing up and calling on other people of notoriety and saying, ‘Hey, we want to get something done. Let’s talk, let’s find this message. Let’s find the actionable things that people can do to change, and let’s put pressure on him right now. Let’s put pressure on him right now in any way that we can. Let’s use the platform while we have it.”
Quarterbacks of notoriety such as Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and others, have yet to deliver on this. While there has been words exchanged, and messages posted, actionable efforts to bring together the entirety of the NFL has simply not happened, something, Conley says will take a lot of courage.
“Because this isn’t forever. The platform, we won’t have this platform forever. Not everyone will care forever. So they got to use it. Because you know, his voice ain’t quite the same as mine. No, it’s just it’s not the same. They say in this league, ‘things are fair but not equal,’ and that’s just how it is. With the quarterbacks. It’s fair, but it’s not equal. You know, they have that power and, you know, we can challenge them to use it to champion other people’s voices.”