The NFL’s reaction also included emotional comments made by Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, during a radio interview. Vincent began by saying he was “proud” of the reaction he saw Wednesday from professional athletes to protest the shooting of Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot multiple times as he entered his car with his children inside.
“This [expletive], it’s got to end,” Vincent said while speaking to former NFL player Keyshawn Johnson on ESPN Radio. “But I’m so proud of these young boys, these young men and women. They did things that I didn’t think about doing. I always fought for the community but during my time, we thought we had a handle on it and obviously we didn’t. But when I saw Doc Rivers and LeBron [James] and George Hill, I think about my three boys.”
Johnson told Vincent to gather himself at one point, and Vincent could be heard sobbing.
“I’m sitting up here every day having a conversation about contact-tracing and how we’re going to play ball,” Vincent said. “And I’ve got a 22-year-old and a 20-year-old and a 15-year-old that I’m trying to prevent from being hunted, and their teachable moment and I’m trusting my Lord, trusting Him. I’m just — I’m proud of what the guys and the women are doing. As we would say, a unified people always defeat unified money. And I’m just proud. I’m proud.”
The league and players’ union issued a joint written statement in which they called the NFL community “united more than ever to support one another in these challenging times.”
They also said: “While our passions continue to run high, we are proud that our players and clubs, League and Union, are taking time to have the difficult conversations about these issues that affect the Black community and other communities of color in America. We are especially encouraged that these conversations are about how we can come together to make the necessary and long overdue changes in our country.”
Chargers Coach Anthony Lynn told NFL Network that he and his players discussed the Blake shooting. Lynn also made reference to Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old from Illinois charged Wednesday with first-degree intentional homicide after two people were killed and another seriously wounded by gunfire at the Kenosha protests.
“Over the last couple days with what just happened in Wisconsin to Mr. Blake, it was a lot,” Lynn said. “To shoot a man seven times in the back and then a white guy walking down the street with a machine gun basically gets waved at, it’s a lot to take in, to be honest with you. We had to talk about it. And I think White players, Black players, everyone spoke about it. It was just beautiful just to see those guys get that off their chest, and I just believe we’re just a better football team after that locker room meeting. It was very emotional and, like I said, it was 10 times more powerful than anything we could have done on the football field today.”
Chargers players stood behind Lynn, one of only three Black head coaches in the NFL, on the field as he conducted his televised interview.
“We can’t give up hope,” Lynn said. “We’ve got to keep fighting for what’s right. We knew when we started this protest and this social uprise that it wasn’t going to happen overnight. It’s a long process and you’re going to have some peaks and valleys. And we’re in a little bit of a valley right now. But we cannot give up hope. If anything, we’ve got to push harder.”
After the Lions canceled their practice Tuesday amid a series of conversations among players, Coach Matt Patricia said: “I challenge everybody in the league to do it, to go out there and continue these conversations and to listen.”
Other teams took similar approaches Thursday. The Colts issued a written statement that said the team would not practice. “Instead, the team will use the day to discuss and work toward making a lasting social impact and inspiring change in our communities,” the statement read.
Some NFL teams that did conduct practice Thursday said they were taking steps to address social justice issues. The Baltimore Ravens issued a written statement that said: “Our team decided to practice this morning. After practice, the team will come together for a meeting to discuss and work on a plan for continued social justice reform efforts.”
New England Patriots veteran defensive back Jason McCourty described a sense of hopelessness among players.
“We’re all lost,” McCourty told reporters. “We have no idea what’s the right move. What can I possibly do to change the system that’s been in place for so many years? So to be honest, to answer your question, I have no idea why we went out there and practiced today. I feel like we’re all just going through the motions …. And we’ve all become so numb to this because it’s happened so many times in so many different places that we’re all just confused and there’s a sense of hopelessness, of just not knowing or understanding how to fix the problem.”
New Orleans Saints cornerback Janoris Jenkins posted a photo to Instagram showing a Saints helmet with “Jacob Blake” written prominently across the front.
Packers safety Adrian Amos wrote on Twitter: “I’m not here solely [for] your entertainment. I’m a Black Man. No I won’t shut up when it comes to my community and the problems we face as a whole.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coach Bruce Arians said he urges players to go beyond protest and take meaningful actions.
“Your responsibility is to take action,” Arians said, according to NFL Network. “I don’t know if protest is an action. I think each guy has a personal thing. I would beg them to take action. Find a cause and either support it financially or do something to change the situation because protesting doesn’t do crap, in my opinion. I’ve been seeing it since 1968.”
DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, wrote on Twitter in response to Arians’s comments: “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it’s clear he is woefully misinformed about the history of protest both within sports and in America.”
Cardinals Coach Kliff Kingsbury spoke of a conversation with his father, a longtime football coach and a former Marine who served in Vietnam and was a Purple Heart recipient, about respect and understanding.
“These are important issues that need to be addressed and important conversations that need to be had,” Kingsbury said in a video conference with reporters, “and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to be around … a great group of guys that have enlightened me, hearing their stories and their struggles. And so those conversations will continue throughout the year, and I just hope we can all continue to push in the right direction.”