When Tracy Walker takes the field for the Detroit Lions’ season opener next month, he’ll have his slain cousin, Ahmaud Arbery, on his mind and heart — literally and figuratively.
Walker, the third-year Lions safety, said he plans to wear a decal with Arbery’s full name on the back of his helmet this season, and he’s in the process of making shirts with Arbery’s picture that he’ll wear underneath his jersey.
Arbery was killed by three white men while jogging in his native Brunswick, Georgia, earlier this year. The suspects are awaiting trial for murder, and the Department of Justice is weighing hate crime charges.
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Walker and Arbery played high school football together, and Walker has said Arbery was his cousin.
“It’s definitely a blessing for me to be able to do that and for the NFL and to except me to be able to speak out in that manner, especially with the whole (Colin) Kaepernick situation that went down,” Walker said. “I’m a firm believer in life is 10% what happens to you, 90% how you respond. And I can sit here and be sad and sit here and just be crying and be emotional about the whole situation, but I have to put in perspective that first off a lot of good — and I wouldn’t say I wanted this to happen this way, but a lot of good has come from that situation. And it has opened, like I said, a lot of eyes (to) things that’s been going on for decades, that’s just been getting overlooked.”
Arbery’s death, and the relationship that both Walker and fellow Brunswick native, Justin Coleman, had with him, has intensified the Lions’ push for social justice reforms this offseason.
[Lions CB Justin Coleman: My friend Ahmaud Arbery wanted to ‘change the world’ ]
Several Lions players and coaches took part in a freedom march on Belle Isle earlier this spring, organized in part by ex-Lions running back Joique Bell, and Lions players including Matthew Stafford and Trey Flowers took part in two virtual voting seminars last month.
Walker said players plan to “reach out to the community and just continue to bring more awareness” to causes dear to them this season, and he said the events of the past few months have changed him as a person.
“It’s definitely opened my eyes to a lot of situations, which I would say as far as in meeting with my teammates, just seeing that we’re all bought in on the same objective of just trying to basically promote the idea of social equality and social unity is everything because we’re all the same and we’re all equal,” Walker said. “So I feel like that’s just one of the biggest things, just showing how everybody — I hate to say it like this, but you don’t really understand, as a Black man growing up, you don’t really understand if white people, and I don’t mean to say it like that but it’s the best way I know how — but you really don’t really understand (if) they really understand your struggle and understand what you have to go through.
“I’m not saying that it’s just we want a pity party, but at the same time our teammates have definitely, as well as our coaches, they have definitely stepped up and just listened to us as we have vocalized the problems that we face, that we have been going through just growing up in daily lives. So honestly, I just love the way that we have united as one on every aspect.”
Walker, a blossoming talent in the Lions secondary, started 12 games and had a team-high 103 tackles last season, when he missed three games with a knee injury.
The NFL, following the NBA’s lead, will allow players to wear pre-approved decals with messages about social justice or in honor of crime victims this season.
Walker said he also plans to wear Arbery’s name on his cleats.
“I’m just going to just continue to speak on the behalf of what he had went through,” Walker said. “Like I said, it’s a hell of a situation. It’s a tough situation but you control what you control, so I feel like that’s the best way I can control what I can do right now and I can use my voice and my platform in that aspect.”
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