“We can’t just stick to football,” Stafford wrote. “Not as a team. Not as an organization. And we shouldn’t as a country. These are not political problems. These are human problems. It should not be seen as a political statement to discuss this stuff.”
The No. 1 draft pick out of Georgia in 2009 recalled that shortly after the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police in May, Stafford arranged to use a field in Atlanta to train with his wide receivers. The first teammate to make it to Atlanta was Danny Amendola, who is White and with whom Stafford said he spent four days working. The next week Stafford was at the same field getting ready to work out with four Black teammates. As they were stretching before one workout, a passerby said they were trespassing and told them to leave.
As they gathered their belongings, the man pulled out his cellphone and told them he was calling the police. Stafford said they were at the field for maybe 10 minutes and the man told police they were being “uncooperative” and “not leaving the property.”
The 2011 Comeback Player of the Year said the issue was crystal clear.
“I was embarrassed to have put my teammates in that situation, especially when I was told that it was cool to use the field,” Stafford wrote. “Especially when I had been on the same field with Danny with no problems. The only difference is what we all know in our hearts. Danny and I are white. We don’t get the cops called on us in those situations. We don’t immediately get called uncooperative.”
That incident made the Lions’ decision to cancel an August practice in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha, Wis., that much more important. Stafford, 32, said that was the proudest moment of his 12-year career.
“We had some extremely difficult conversations,” Stafford wrote. “We shared stories. We debated. We cried. We were vulnerable. We were uncomfortable. We were angry. We were everything. But we went through it all as a team.”
The next day, the Milwaukee Bucks did not participate in their playoff game, refusing to take the court and leading the NBA to suspend its postseason matchups that night and the following day. The WNBA followed suit, and multiple MLB and MLS games were also postponed that night after several teams decided not to play. The NHL went on with its postseason games that night but postponed its scheduled games for the next two days. Other NFL teams canceled practices.
Stafford wrote that some teammates described being begged by their parents to text them when they arrived at the Lions’ training facility and when they got home so they knew they were safe. He recalled defensive lineman Trey Flowers explaining that if he were to get pulled over by a police officer, he would roll his window down, put both hands on the steering wheel and ask the officer if he would like him to step out of the vehicle to be handcuffed so he wouldn’t be viewed as a threat.
“When you hear your teammates telling these stories — and getting so emotional that they’re breaking down crying — you can’t just sit there and be silent,” Stafford wrote. “These were the same guys who had supported me last offseason during the darkest months of my life, when my wife was diagnosed with a brain tumor. This is what it means to be a part of a brotherhood. You have your brother’s back when they’re in pain. You listen to them. You try to help. I wish that we could do that as a country.”
Stafford admitted he grew up in a “bubble” in Highland Park, Tex., which is 94.3 percent White, according to census data.
“I was not exposed to a lot of diversity or different ideas growing up,” Stafford wrote. “I was not educated on these issues, and I probably said a bunch of stupid things when I was young that I regret. But a big part of life is about looking inside yourself and trying to evolve as a person.”
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