The Detroit Lions were winners Tuesday in something much bigger than football

Detroit Free Press

Matthew Stafford said it’s the proudest he’s been in 12 seasons as a Lion. Matt Patricia called it an example of why he got into coaching.

The Detroit Lions didn’t win any games Tuesday, and they didn’t lose any, either. What they did was bigger, better and more important than anything they’ll accomplish on the football field this year.

The Lions took a day off from football activities to talk and comfort and use their platform to demonstrate against some of the real-life issues that plague America.

Racial injustice. Police brutality. The unequal treatment of people of color.

And for that they should be praised.

“Talk about brave,” Patricia said. “Guys going out there and certainly young men who are much more involved with the social media world than I am. They all know there’s immediate feedback. They all know there’s immediate response. But the strength and the power and unity, I think that was unbelievable today. This team, the group of men that we have in that locker room, that’s a good group of men. I love those guys. We obviously understand the football-side of it, but it’s not about football today.”

Shawn Windsor: Lions stopped practice and spoke to the world; time to listen, like it or not

No doubt there are people out there who think it should be about football, today and always.

Just as one ill-informed commentator told LeBron James to shut and dribble two years ago, people will make the Lions’ stand against police brutality, two days after Kenosha, Wisconsin, police shot Jacob Blake, aBlack man, at least seven times in the back, a political one.

But if you listen to the Lions’ message Tuesday — the one they’ve been sharing since the spring, really — it has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with treating people right.

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“It’s just important for people to understand that, yes, we’re football players, we’re in camp, we’re in the bubble,” defensive end Trey Flowers said. “But like I said (during the demonstration), we have brothers, we have sons, we have fathers, we have cousins, nephews that they’re not in camp, they’re not in a bubble. They really have to go and deal with real-world situations. So it’s tough. But we understand that we all have a job to do and like Duron (Harmon) said, we’ll play football but we’ll also change the world with our platform.”

I don’t know if the Lions can change the world, and certainly not on one muggy afternoon in August. But change has to start somewhere and with someone leading the way.

On Tuesday, the Lions were the ones out front on an issue that generally brings safety in numbers.

Players arrived for training camp Tuesday morning with thoughts of Blake on their mind, and when Patricia caught wind of their worries, he opened up the day’s team meeting to a long and powerful discussion.

As they did virtually in May and June after the George Floyd shooting, players shared personal stories of the inequalities they’ve faced and voiced their frustrations at the lack of progress and understanding that’s ripped a hole in this country.

“The level of frustration and anger is real, it’s palpable,” Stafford said. “The first-hand stories from my teammates is something that, till the day I die I’ll never forget. This offseason, even today, just — I mean guys telling stories that they haven’t told anybody before, and they feel comfortable enough in our locker room to tell the guys and the coaches, everybody that’s in there. It was incredible, it was awesome, I love being a part of it. It’s such an incredible feeling and hopefully just the beginning.”

The Lions should be commended for things they’ve done already through their Inspire Change initiative.

Several players took part in a march and rally on Belle Isle earlier this spring. Stafford, Flowers and Harmon joined a virtual town hall for voter education last month. And the Lions announced Tuesday they will use Ford Field to protect ballots cast in November’s election.

The organization as a whole, and Patricia in particular, have done just about everything right this offseason, from the safety measures they’ve put in place during the coronavirus pandemic to giving players the room to be something other than football robots when it comes to very personal topics of racial and social injustice.

I don’t know what that means for the season this fall, and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t much matter.

The Lions were winners Tuesday in something much bigger.

“If just by today and the conversations we had this morning in the locker room and hopefully what we were able to put out, if that affects one person and helps one person then it’s worth it,” Patricia said. “We’re continuing to just put those ideas and thoughts together and try to just keep getting the stories out there. I think that’s the biggest thing. Like I said, maybe there’s a chain reaction here that’s starting with some of the other teams and maybe it pushes forward that way which will be great.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content. 

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