SANTA CLARA (CBS SF/AP) — Empty practice fields made for loud and powerful statements at facilities across the NFL against racial injustice.
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 police 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.
While the San Francisco 49ers did not cancel practice, the team decided to only participate in a morning walkthrough and not padded scrimmages, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The team said that the decision came in response to the Blake shooting, but it also helps because several players need to rest and recover from injuries.
San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke to the media Thursday morning and explained why they chose to still practice while other teams suspended practice.
“If they wanted to not have practice today, we definitely would have done that. No one brought that to my attention and I opened it up to all of them and that wasn’t what they wanted to do,” Shanahan said.
But just because they decided to have practice, Shanahan insisted that the team is quite aware of the issues the Black community experiences with law enforcement.
“We discussed a ton over the offseason, especially with the George Floyd stuff, when that happened. It’s stuff that lots of our players have been dealing with their entire life, that people have been dealing with for hundreds of years,” Shanahan said. “Now that there’s cameras and stuff out there, people see it a lot more which is why I truly believe it will eventually change. It’s not happening fast enough, obviously.”
The decision comes on the four-year anniversary of the 49ers-Green Bay Packers game where former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first sat down during the National Anthem to protest police brutality. Kaepernick continued to protest through the rest of the season, but instead of sitting he began kneeling, per advice from a retired Green Beret, as to not disrespect military personnel.
Though the protest led to the end of Kaepernick’s football career, the former Super Bowl quarterback has gone on to raise millions for addressing racial and social inequality. On Sunday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell admitted on a video that he wishes the league “had listened earlier” to the reasons behind Kaepernick’s protest.
Blake, 29, was shot by a police officer seven times in the back on Sunday in Kenosha as he leaned into his SUV as three of his children were 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.
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.
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.”
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.
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.