This offseason has been a transformative period in the life of Detroit Lions safety Tracy Walker. There’s been the good — he and wife Bella are expecting their first child — and there’s been the bad — the slaying of cousin Ahmaud Arbery.
Both events figure to shape the man Walker will be going forward.
Arbery’s death has been in the national spotlight for months after he was confronted by two armed men while jogging through a neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia. The men, Travis McMichael and his father Gregory McMichael, allegedly believed Arbery was a suspected burglar and were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest. An ensuing altercation resulted in Arbery being fatally shot.
Both Travis and Gregory, as well as William Bryan, who was involved in the pursuit of Arbery and the filming of the incident, have been indicted on multiple charges, including murder.
Walker, as well as teammate Justin Coleman, who is also from Brunswick, have previously spoken on the impact Arbery’s death has had on them. On Tuesday, Walker discussed how he planned to honor his cousin during the upcoming NFL season.
“I’m definitely going to wear his name on the back of my helmet, for sure, with the whole social justice thing,” Walker said, referencing a program the NFL instituted this offseason. “I’m working on a few T-shirts that I’m getting with his picture on it. I’m going to play with that on underneath my uniform. His name is going to be on my cleats, the whole nine.
“I’m going to just continue to speak on behalf of what he went through. It’s a hell of a situation. It’s a tough situation, but you control what you control. I feel like that’s the best way I can control what I can do right now, and use my voice and my platform in that aspect.”
The NFL is permitting players to put victims names on their helmets as part of a larger response to players criticizing the league’s stance on systematic racism in the country following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin during an attempted arrest in May.
Additionally, the league started a 10-year, $250-million fund to combat social injustice and systematic racism.
“It’s a blessing for the NFL to actually just listen and accept what’s going on right now,” Walker said. “I’m a firm believer in that life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond. I can sit here and be sad or sit here and be crying, you know? Be emotional about the whole situation. But I have to put into perspective that, first off, a lot of good, and I wouldn’t say I wanted it to happen this way, but a lot of good has come from that situation. It has opened a lot of eyes to things that have been going on for decades. It’s just been getting overlooked. Like I said, the great thing about it all is that change is coming about.”
On the team level, the Lions opened up a dialogue on social and racial injustice during their virtual team meetings. Walker said the talks have been a positive experience.
“Our teammates as well as our coaches have definitely stepped up and just listened to us as we (Black players) have vocalized the problems that we face, that we have been going through just growing up and our daily lives,” Walker said. “Honestly, I just love the way that we have united as one on every aspect of just trying to be the best football team and best in the community and so forth. I love the passion that my teammates are bringing each and every day, and I’m just trying to match it.”
More than anything, Walker wants what Dr. Martin Luther King preached in his “I Have a Dream” speech nearly six decades ago.
“I just want people to love me for me,” Walker said. “You guys have met me. Every day I see y’all. I try to speak and be passionate. I let you guys meet the real me. I don’t want you to judge me just off of first impressions and the way I look. Listen to me speak first. That’s the one thing I would say, just accept me for who I am.”