A number of high-profile NFL players and former players have again spoken out in the media to urge the NFL to produce ‘tangible action’ in the fight for social justice, rather than just publicity exercises.
Week one of the new NFL season saw most teams engage in some sort of protest to raise awareness for the police brutality and social injustice currently rife in the US, with some taking a knee during the national anthem, some choosing to remain in the locker rooms and some remaining on the pitch.
Unlike in previous years, any desire from players to protest or demonstrate as they please is met with encouragement and support from staff, NFL officials and even commissioner Roger Goodell, who has recently reiterated how the league is committed in the battle against racism.
Former Chicago Bears defensive end and Super Bowl champion Shaun Gayle called upon the league and players for ‘tangible action’ against social injustice. Speaking in the Sky Sports NFL Sunday studio with former NFL coach Rob Ryan and fellow Super Bowl winner Cliff Avril, Gayle spoke frankly about the issues players continued to face and how the league can move on from this point.
“The players are sceptical and it’s understandable why,” Gayle said. “You have to understand this systemic racism, this police brutality. It permeates society and life in the US and here.
“When it comes down to addressing it, there is no room for a coat of paint, a publicity exercise. It has to be something valuable. Some tangible action to prove to those people being affected that something is going to take place.”
“There has to be more, believe me this has gone on for quite a long time. There is protest, there is demonstration but we end up back in the same place until we start to address the specific issues.
“Like in police brutality, we talk about good police vs bad police – a good police officer is one who won’t allow crime to take place, even if it’s his partner hurting someone or filing a report to report that individual.
“These are the types of steps that need to be taken for the change to take place.”
Last Thursday, with moments before the league season was due to kick off, the Houston Texans elected to return to their locker rooms for both anthems. The Kansas City Chiefs remained on the pitch, but both rosters came together for a poignant moment of solidarity before the game got underway.
On Sunday, similar acts of protest could be seen across the country as NFL teams continue to try and raise awareness and direct attention to the issues currently ongoing. The Miami Dolphins chose to remain in their locker room until kick off, releasing a strongly-worded video on social media that called upon ‘owners with influence’ to utilize their political influence and play their part in the ‘publicity parade’.
Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars stayed off the field and released a statement saying they ‘understood not everyone will agree with our position and demonstration… we hope that all will seek to understand the reason for it.’
In the same game, Indianapolis Colts stood on the goal line during the anthem where head coach Frank Reich took a knee, while the franchise released an accompanying statement.
“To be clear, we were not protesting the flag, the anthem, or the men and women who wear the uniform.
“The timing of this action is meant to highlight that the presence, power, and oppression of racism remains inconsistent with the unity and freedoms of what it means to be an American.”
Players’ helmets featured the names of victims of racism or social brutality, social justice leaders, or one of four phrases while endzones across the league displayed the words ‘End Racism’ and ‘It Takes All of Us’.
“It goes back to a few years ago when Kaep and Michael Bennett were taking a knee or sitting. It was never about the flag, or the military,” Cliff Avril told Sky Sports.
“It was about injustice, it was about police brutality and a lot of people still don’t want to face those facts and see where people are coming from and that is unfortunate,” the former Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions player added.
“It’s getting some action behind it, using your off days and teaching the kids in the community, bridging the gap between the police officers and the community – all these things are very much needed.
“The players have the platform, they understand what they need to do. It is not just on the players, it is on everyone else that also believes in it, everyone else that is following what the players are doing. They need to put action behind it as well,” Avril continued passionately.