Blake’s shooting was captured on cellphone video and ignited new protests in the U.S. three months after the killing of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer touched off a nationwide reckoning over racial injustice — and discussions among NFL players and staffs about equality.
“A lot of our players, a lot of our Black players, are hurting from the standpoint of this is close to home for many of them,” said Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who is white. “So for me, it’s about understanding, it’s about learning, it’s about gaining knowledge, and then being able to support our guys.”
Bengals players, coaches, ownership and staff marched together in Cincinnati from Paul Brown Stadium to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on Saturday.
“Together, as a unified front, we must identify, address and ultimately end those practices and policies that would deny liberty and justice to all, regardless of race, religion, or creed,” the Bengals said in a statement. “It is time for us all to take a stand! It is each of our responsibility to effect change in our communities, not only for us but for those yet to come.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to the racism still experienced in this country.”
On Friday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin — flanked by team president Art Rooney II and general manager Kevin Colbert — briefly spoke on social unrest and prejudice while players locked arms behind him.
Tomlin, one of three Black NFL head coaches, is the third-longest tenured coach in the league. Players and staff followed Tomlin’s speech by kneeling in prayer around the 50-yard line.
“We decided to come together, lock arms and make a stand to show compassion,” linebacker Vince Williams said Saturday. “Even though we’re professional athletes, we’re still sympathetic to everything going on.”
Darnold said he and his Jets teammates have not talked about sitting out any games as a form of protest, something that has happened the past several days in other sports such as the NBA, WNBA, NHL, MLS and Major League Baseball.
“We have to continue playing because, quite frankly, this is the reason we have a platform, is because we play football and we are in the NFL,” Darnold said. “And that was a huge point to all the guys was, we have to continue playing, we have to continue to push our message across and get our points across to everyone because if we stop playing then that platform can be taken away from us.”
Green Bay Packers center Corey Linsley, who is white, said it was eye-opening to listen to some of his teammates’ experiences — particularly offensive lineman Billy Turner and linebacker Christian Kirksey, both of whom are Black.
“To hear their stories and especially know the place that they’re coming from, it’s impactful, man,” Linsley said Saturday. “It hits you different, for sure. It’s made an impact on me.
“It’s made an impact on a number of guys in this locker room in the way that we view the world, the way that we view our criminal justice system, the way that we view society in general.”
AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi and AP Sports Writers Tim Booth, Joe Kay, Steve Megargee and Charles Odum and AP Freelance Writers Curtis Crabtree and Dan Scifo contributed to this report