Detroit Lions cancel practice, demand change after Jacob Blake shooting: ‘We won’t be silent’

Detroit Free Press

They weren’t in the mood for football, at all. And who could blame them after another unarmed Black man — someone so many of them recognized as their brother, their father, their cousin, their son — was shot eight times by Kenosha (Wisconsin) police?

The Detroit Lions canceled practice Tuesday following an emotional, hourslong team meeting, in which players shared deeply personal stories about their experiences with racial injustice and vowed to be agents of change.

After lunch, the Lions — all 80 players plus the coaching staff — walked silently out the front door of their Allen Park practice facility in a demonstration against police brutality.

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Duron Harmon, Trey Flowers and Taylor Decker spoke passionately about the shooting of Jacob Blake. Bo Scarbrough and Da’Shawn Hand wheeled out a dry-erase board with the words, “The World Can’t Go On,” written on one side, and, “We Won’t Be Silent,” on the other. And Danny Shelton wore a gray T-shirt, cut off at the sleeves, with, “We Demand Justice,” on the front.

“As we came in today, as a team, we looked at each other in the eye and we realized that football is not important today,” Harmon said. “We have a platform that we’re able to use to not only raise awareness but to create change and we decided today that we was going to step forward and we was going to create change.”

Blake’s shooting, which happened in broad daylight Sunday in front of his three children, sparked protests across the country nearly three months after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

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Harmon said the shooting weighed heavily on his mind in recent days — the Lions were off Monday — and when he arrived in Allen Park early Tuesday he discussed the incident with strength and conditioning coach Josh Schuler.

Lions coach Matt Patricia pulled Harmon and others aside later in the morning, and when the team convened on the indoor practice field for its socially distanced squad meeting, Patricia opened the floor to nonfootball discussions.

“That conversation just went everywhere,” Harmon said. “I mean, people talking about experiences to people talking about just their feelings toward the event, the tragic event that took place on Sunday. And then after we got done with that meeting, conversation started in the locker room and then everybody’s gathered around, we’re just trying to figure out what we can do to not only bring light to the situation of what happened and how it’s wrong with police brutality, but how can we as a team create change.”

The Lions spent a week this spring discussing Floyd’s death and the resulting protests over Zoom during the team’s virtual offseason.

Those discussions, also deeply personal in nature, prompted about 10 members of the organization to take part in a freedom march and rally organized in part by ex-Lions running back Joique Bell, and led to two groups of Lions taking part in virtual voting seminars this summer.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who joined Harmon and Trey Flowers in one voter education town hall, said Tuesday’s conversations, both in the locker room and on the practice field, “lasted for hours and it was incredible to be a part of.”

“It was the first time that we’ve really dedicated a chunk of time to talk about it when we’re all in the building together,” Stafford said. “As much interaction as we can even have on these Zooms, you guys know nothing substitutes being in person and feeling what my teammates are feeling and what they’re going through. It hurts. It hurts a lot. (Taylor Decker) talked about it, when people you care about go through things like that, it’s tough. And I wish America, I wish everybody could be on these calls or be in these meetings. I feel so lucky and privileged to be a part of it.”

Decker shared a story during Tuesday’s demonstration and later during a video conference with reporters about a teammate who said his mother calls daily to check on him and make sure he made the 23-minute drive home safely after practice.

“The same guy whose mother was concerned about him getting home, was concerned that he had an out-of-state license plate and a different ID and what might happen because of that,” Decker said. “I have an out of state ID. I’ve got a Michigan license plate. I’ve got a headlight out, and not for one second was I concerned about making it home for my safety.

“And hearing the pain in the voices of guys that I care about, guys that I love, guys that are great men, great fathers, great husbands, they shouldn’t have to go through that. And I want them to know that I’m here for them because we all are brothers. At the end of the day we’re all humans who want to be loved, safe, secure and happy, and you shouldn’t have to look over your shoulder and worry about your well-being.”

Decker said he does not know what comes next in the team’s fight against racial injustice and police brutality, but he and others stressed that the organization in general and players, in particular, will continue to use their voice for change.

“For us, we relate everything to football, and certainly the lessons that we learn in football, I always like to apply those to life,” Patricia said. “But one of the things that stares us in the face every single day is that is if you take a group of men from all different backgrounds — every different part of the country, every different journey, every different story — and put them in a locker room and have one common goal and everyone pushes for it and the family atmosphere that we create, why isn’t that like there everywhere?”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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