Matthew Stafford doesn’t do much for show. The Detroit Lions quarterback has never been the guy who will grab his teammate by the face mask and chew him out on national television. But good luck finding a former teammate who won’t rave about his leadership on the field and in the locker room.
Stafford doesn’t boast about his charitable works in the community, but he and wife Kelly likely do more than fans ever know, far beyond what is publicized by the team.
When it comes to media obligations, Stafford is vanillas as they come. Despite flashing a big personality off camera, he sticks to cliches when the recorders are rolling, never even accidentally saying something that could be construed as controversial.
As for social media? Not a chance. He deleted all that years ago.
So as Stafford has used his platform to discuss concerns about social justice this year — a topic that has become highly politicized and therefore divisive — it’s a meaningful departure from the public persona he’s always presented.
When the Lions canceled a training camp practice in the aftermath of Jacob Blake’s shooting last month, Stafford said he’s never been more proud to be a member of the organization. And ahead of the season opener last weekend, he was one of a handful of players to kneel during the national anthem, saying it “felt like it was the right thing at the right time.”
On Friday, Stafford took it a step further, doing what he’s long avoided, laying his thoughts and emotions bare for the world to see, penning a lengthy column on the “Player’s Tribune” titled “We Can’t Just Stick to Football.”
In it, Stafford discusses his own, privileged upbringing in Highland Park, Texas. He talks about growing up culturally isolated, contrasted against the personal growth he’s experienced in recent months hearing his teammates’ experiences with race.
Stafford told a story about how he worked out with Lions receiver Danny Amendola at a local field in Georgia this offseason, but when he tried to work out on the same field with his black teammates a short time later they had the cops called on them.
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“I was embarrassed to have put my teammates in that situation, especially when I was told that it was cool to use the field,” Stafford wrote. “Especially when I had been on the same field with Danny with no problems.
“The only difference is what we all know in our hearts,” Stafford continued. “Danny and I are white. We don’t get the cops called on us in those situations. We don’t immediately get called uncooperative. And if even if Danny and I somehow did get the cops called on us, we all know how that interaction would’ve gone.”
After the Lions cancelled practice in August, Stafford noted he got multiple texts that bothered him. Paraphrasing, they said, “Sorry you had to go through that,” as if the experience was an inconvenience that distracted him from playing football.
“The fact that anyone would feel sorry for me, or be thinking about a football practice at a time like that, really speaks volumes,” Stafford wrote. “There are still people in this country who just want sports to be a distraction, and that’s their right. But I beg to differ.”
Talking to the media Friday afternoon, Lions quarterback coach Sean Ryan said he isn’t surprised to see Stafford take a public stand based on the guy he’s gotten to know behind closed doors this past 18 months.
“I think what’s happened is these situations have come up and I think he’s just acting on them in a way he feels is right, based on his beliefs, how he was raised, his background, all of it together, just what he feels is the right thing to do,” Ryan said. “And I think he’s just doing it. I think it’s very natural, I think it’s genuine is the word I used earlier — I’ll say it again. I think that’s why it carries weight is because it’s real.”
Stafford closed his piece echoing a theme the Lions have embraced through this offseason: Listen.
“All I can ask you to do, as we continue through this NFL season, is to close your eyes and really put yourself in other people’s shoes,” Stafford said. “Try for a minute to put all the social media and the politics and the arguing aside, and look within yourself. Ask yourself hard questions. But more than anything, listen.”