FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Empty practice fields made for loud and powerful statements at facilities across the NFL.
The Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans and Washington Football Team all chose to not practice Thursday in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Wisconsin.
“Instead, the team will use the day to discuss and work toward making a lasting social impact and inspiring change in our communities,” the Colts said in a statement posted on Twitter.
Blake, 29, was shot by police, apparently in the back, on Sunday in Kenosha as he leaned into his SUV, three of his children seated inside. The shooting was captured on cellphone video and ignited new protests in the U.S. three months after the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer touched off a nationwide reckoning over racial injustice.
Broncos running back Melvin Gordon grew up in Kenosha, and he and other players, coaches and staff posed for a team photo that was posted along with a statement on Twitter.
“While this tragedy took place in Melvin Gordon’s hometown of Kenosha, this hits home for all of us,” part of the statement read. “In the strongest terms, we condemn police brutality, excessive force and these senseless acts of violence that have caused so much pain. It is time for accountability and real policy reform.”
The Detroit Lions canceled their practice Tuesday, protesting the incident involving Blake, and racial injustice. They were on the field Thursday, but the impact of their actions was clear across the rest of the league.
“I think that if there’s any chance that we got everybody to maybe stop and think for a minute, that’s really great,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said Thursday during a video call. “I think we have a simple saying as ‘Just listen.’ Right now, that’s all we want people to really do is listen. We understand that this isn’t a sprint, it’s not a race; it’s a marathon.
“It’s something that we just have to make sure we do a good job of continuing the conversation.”
The New Orleans Saints were among several teams that practiced, but the players wore Blake’s name on the front or crown of their helmets where they usually have their own names during camp.
“It’s just something we decided to do last night to honor him,” coach Sean Payton said. “It was something we felt would be appropriate, and I think they (the players) were for it.”
Jets coach Adam Gase and a few players said Wednesday they spoke about the shooting of Blake and racial injustice on Tuesday night. The virtual meeting included team chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson. Wide receiver Jamison Crowder and safety Bradley McDougald said the Jets were still discussing how they would handle the situation as a team. Those meetings continued at the team’s facility Thursday.
“We’ve been protecting the shield,” Jets running back Le’Veon Bell wrote in a Twitter post. “It’s time for the shield to protect us.”
On Wednesday night, the Washington Football Team announced it would not hold its practice at its home stadium on Thursday afternoon. It was supposed to be broadcast live on local radio and televised at night.
“In place of our practice at FedEx Field, the players, coaches and football staff will meet as a football family and we’ll continue our open dialogue on the issues of racism and social injustice in our country,” coach Ron Rivera said in the statement.
Washington, which recently dropped its longtime name of Redskins, last week hired Jason Wright as the first Black team president in NFL history.
The Atlanta Falcons were among several other teams that still held practice Thursday. Coach Dan Quinn said he would talk with his players, including the team’s social justice committee, later in the day.
“We’ve always acted collectively as a group and as a team,” Quinn said. He said he will support players “whether it’s action items or a chance to vent as a team.”
Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said players and coaches met for over two hours Thursday morning before deciding to practice as scheduled.
The Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers also had practice sessions.
“Everyone has the choice to choose to what level and what degree they want to use their platform,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “I think the biggest thing right now is to … listen to my African-American teammates and friends that aren’t even in football
just to get a better understanding to educate myself.”
Browns star defensive end Myles Garrett said players met and decided to cut their practice in half. They planned to use the second half of their scheduled workout to go inside and brainstorm on ideas to “really move the needle” for social change.
“It’s different this time,” Garrett said. “A lot of people are feeling this way — all colors, all walks of life.”
The protests weren’t limited to the NFL. The Milwaukee Bucks opted not to play in their playoff game Wednesday, and two other games were postponed later in the day.
Three Major League Baseball games were also postponed. Games between the Cincinnati Reds and Brewers in Milwaukee, Seattle Mariners and Padres in San Diego and the Los Angeles Dodgers and Giants in San Francisco were called off hours before they were set to begin.
Players and teams from the WNBA, MLS and tennis also sat out their competitions Wednesday night.
Story by Dennis Waszak Jr. AP Pro Football Writers Schuyler Dixon, Josh Dubow, Mark Long, Arnie Stapleton, Barry Wilner and Teresa Walker, and Sports Writers Tim Booth, Tom Canavan, Dave Ginsburg, Will Graves, Larry Lage, Brett Martel, Steve Megargee, Charles Odom, Stephen Whyno and Tom Withers contributed.