From the Jaguars to every corner of the sports world, there’s an inescapable feeling of sadness over yet another horrific incident of police brutality involving a Black citizen.
But the overriding fallout from this disturbing trend is this: nobody in the NFL, NBA or any other sport promoting the #BlackLivesMatter movement really knows how to initiate real change. Nothing against canceling games or organizing a peaceful, inspiring protest march — both of which are paved with good intentions — but change is likely going to come more through politicians enacting real legislation.
In the meantime, it’s a travesty America has to keep dealing with too many Black people dying or almost dying because a small number of police officers use excessive force.
Jacob Blake — shot in the back seven times in Kenosha, Wisconsin, while leaning into a car as three of his children inside looked on — is just another in a frighteningly long roll call. Blake is miraculously still alive, but may not walk again.
Too many Black victims before him won’t get a chance at any future, like David McAtee (June 1), Sean Reed (May 6), Steven Taylor (April 18), and, of course, George Floyd (May 25) and Breonna Taylor (March 13). All are gone because officers showed too little restraint or bad judgment on the job.
The shooting of Blake, which triggered an NBA playoff boycott by the Milwaukee Bucks, had a domino effect across the American sports landscape. It compelled the NBA to postpone two other playoff games, as well as the WNBA, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer pulling games off their schedules.
But that’s hardly the worst part. It’s how maddeningly frustrated Black athletes and teams everywhere feel over what to do about these abhorrent, headline-grabbing stories. They want to initiate positive change, but are conflicted over what is needed to correct the social injustice, the inequality and inhumanity toward African-Americans.
As Jaguars coach Doug Marrone put it after Thursday’s practice: “When is enough enough? How long is this going to keep going on? We draw attention to it, and here we are again.”
It defies common sense at this point to expect athletes and coaches of all colors to just stick to sports. That ship sailed years ago, not long after exiled San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took his first knee during a national anthem at a 2016 preseason game. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has since publicly acknowledged the unfair pariah treatment Kaepernick was given.
Now the Jaguars find themselves as conflicted as the rest of the NFL, where at least eight teams followed the Detroit Lions’ lead on Tuesday and canceled Thursday practices. The only reason the Jaguars took the field is the players voted to practice by a 37-36 margin.
It’s a tough call. The Jaguars are trying to get ready for a 2020 season amid a COVID-19 pandemic, yet want to continue fighting for the Black Lives Matter cause that prompted coaches, players and team employees to engage in a peaceful protest march on June 5 to Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office headquarters.
With the emotional scars from the video of George Floyd being choked to death by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin still relatively fresh, then came the disturbing visual of multiple gun shots being fired into Blake.
Jaguars’ receiver DJ Chark, who is Black, didn’t see the Blake video until early Thursday morning. He then went to a team meeting, which featured over two hours of dialogue among the players and coaches about how they’d react to another polarizing police brutality incident.
“You get to the point where I feel like, you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all because it’s always the same situation,” said Chark. “We stand up [against police brutality], and it happens again and again.
“We have more talking to do. This is not close to being over.”
The conflicting emotions in the Jaguars’ locker room were apparent. The razor-thin vote margin revealed a team as duty-bound to do their job as investing time to dialogue over the Blake shooting.
“This is going to continue to happen until there is reforming,” said Conley. “I would say that it’s more sadness than frustration because we knew this wouldn’t change overnight. … I really want to get to a point of realizing that this is about life. This isn’t about priors. This isn’t about did he do this, did he do that, was he armed, did he not do this or that.
“This is about life. And who are you to put a value on a life? Who am I to put a value on a life? We need to get to that baseline of saying that a life matters.”
For the NFL, the public relations optics are just now flaring up because they haven’t played any games yet. But with the season two weeks away, what happens if another reprehensible police incident involving a Black victim occurs and players feel compelled to discuss whether to play on Sunday?
Chark said if he thought canceling NFL games would produce enough positive change to end or diminish police brutality toward Black people, “I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
Imagine the firestorm if just the threat of the NFL not playing became an issue. Conley says he doubts the NFL would take such a bold step because too many players are afraid of losing their paychecks. But if the star quarterbacks – he didn’t specifically name Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Tom Brady or Drew Brees – took some initiative or got to speak before Congress, that could be a social justice game-changer.
“They call NFL players modern-day slaves,” said former Jaguars’ star running back Fred Taylor. “The public sees this and think they don’t stand up for anything that’s right. They’re not doing what the NBA and LeBron James has done [to fight social injustice].
“When these issues are at hand, you don’t hear from the quarterbacks who are the faces of the NFL. If Russell Wilson calls up some of the other guys in the league, he’d be one guy who could get some real traction and movement. This [police brutality] is getting worse. Now it’s getting filmed.”
So where does the NFL and the rest of America go from here? That is the conundrum. If the Jaguars struggled in simply deciding whether to hold practice after much of the sports world canceled real games, it’s obvious this issue of sports intersecting with real-life problems isn’t going away.
“We know what we want as the end result,” Marrone said. “We know we want equality, we know we want justice. The path I’m going, and what steps to take, those are the answers that we do not have now.”
If you don’t understand the impact some of these horrific police shootings have on African-Americans, then you’re either frighteningly insensitive or care too little about what happens to people outside your personal universe.
How about looking up the Tuesday night video of Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who was clearly trying to hold back tears as he said: “We [African-Americans] keep loving this country. And this country doesn’t love us back.”
“It’s not a political issue,” added Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who is Black. “It’s just a human being issue. A Black man being shot seven times, that’s just not right.”
In this case, the injustice is obvious. How to eradicate it is a far more complex matter.
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