Detroit Lions aren’t getting the credit they deserve for starting a movement

Detroit Free Press

0-16. S.O.L. Matt Millen.

When it comes to moments that exemplify failure and invite ridicule, the sports world always has the good, old Detroit Lions to kick around.

They’ve been punchlines and punching bags. And they’ve mostly deserved it.

But this week they deserve something else. They deserve credit for starting a protest movement that has cascaded throughout every American sports league, as my colleague Jeff Seidel pointed out.

NBA, NHL, MLB and other NFL teams joined the movement. They followed the lead the Lions set Tuesday and stopped practicing or playing games to support racial justice after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

[ The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content. ]

One by one, other teams and leagues followed. One by one, those teams and leagues got credit. The New York Times hailed the Milwaukee Bucks for having “sparked” a wave of boycotts in an article with this headline: “Led by N.B.A., Boycotts Disrupt Pro Sports in Wake of Blake Shooting.”

But not one mention of what the Lions did the day before. It’s not just the Times. There has been scarcely a mention of the Lions starting it all in an unplanned and organic way with the simple act of standing outside their team facility in front of a dry-erase board, and speaking from the heart.

It was the farthest thing from a made-for-TV moment like the Mets and Marlins orchestrating a 42-second moment of silence, and walking off the field in protest Thursday.

And let’s not forget an important and distinguishing factor about what the Lions did. The NFL is the most conservative of the American sports leagues and the players have short careers with contracts that are largely not guaranteed. It was a big risk for Lions players to skip a day of training camp practice that could mean the difference between having a job or not having a job for several players.

If you don’t agree with any of these protests, I respect your difference of opinion.

But if you want to look at it in football terms, you have to give the Lions credit for being bold and being themselves. You can’t criticize them for playing it safe in games and too often following the lead of other teams like the Patriots, and then not give them credit for being willing to think and act differently, and for once setting an example for everyone else.

[ Carlos: Why Lions’ Matt Patricia is the perfect coach for this team ]

Swift’s slow start

I wouldn’t worry too much about running back D’Andre Swift. The second-round pick from Georgia has missed a lot of practice since he suffered a leg injury Aug. 20. The Lions are smart to let him heal. They had bad luck with running back injuries last year that they know they’ll need him well into the season and not as much when everyone’s healthy early.

Missing practice could limit how much time Swift sees on the field, especially on third downs when running backs are counted on to be pass protectors. But coach Matt Patricia understands it might take a more time for Swift to settle into his role because of the irregular offseason.

[ Birkett: D’Andre Swift could bring some Alvin Kamara-type juice to Lions offense ]

Okudah will be OK

It’s safe to say cornerback Jeff Okudah, the No. 3 overall pick from Ohio State, hasn’t shined consistently. Rookie cornerbacks, no matter how high they’re picked, rarely do.

But I like the way Okudah has carried himself. Whenever he has failed to defend a pass or there has been a miscommunication, he quickly looks to the other defensive backs to figure out the problem, or visits with a coach after the play.

Young players don’t have to be perfect. They have to maintain a good attitude and keep learning.

Gunning for rain

The Lions practiced for two hours in the rain Wednesday as reporters stood there soaking it all in — literally.

The bad weather reminded me of the late Gunther Cunningham, the former Lions defensive coordinator. Gun, as everyone called him, would ridicule reporters if we took shelter from the rain or if we tried to cool off in the shade in the blistering heat during the two-a-days nobody misses. His message was: If we’ve got to take this, you’ve got to take this.

Gun was the best. He looked like he was always about to tell you to get off his lawn, but he was actually one of the kindest and smartest coaches I’ve known. And he had great stories.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez. 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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