Opinion: Will NFL teams boycott? Lions response to Jacob Blake shooting could mark new era in protests – USA TODAY

Maybe the huge, dry-erase board the Detroit Lions wheeled out after canceling practice on Tuesday wasn’t the only pertinent sign resonating from the NFL landscape in the wake of more social unrest stemming from another police shooting of an unarmed Black man.

We’ve witnessed kneeling during the national anthem. Seen enough boilerplate statements issued. Viewed passionate pleas from NFL stars on a slick video … with a response from Roger Goodell.

Yet the Lions’ response to the heinous act of Jacob Blake being shot seven times in the back by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday, which his father said left the 29-year-old paralyzed from the waist down, was a sign of evolution, too.

Detroit Lions defensive end Trey Flowers addresses the media with his teammates outside the Lions NFL football camp practice facility, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Allen Park, Michigan.

Of course, a bigger statement was made inside the NBA’s bubble on Wednesday, when the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic. It was the impetus to the NBA postponing all of its playoff games for the night.

You almost expect that a boycott would come from the consistently woke NBA, where, thankfully, LeBron James doesn’t just shut up and dribble and Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers poignantly compared legitimate fear to trumped-up paranoia on Tuesday.

What happened in Allen Park, Michigan, was significant, too, in that it could serve as a forecast for how players in the NFL – the league that gave us Colin Kaepernick – might further push the protest envelope.

What if the Dallas Cowboys staged a boycott?

No knock on the Lions, but the Cowboys – the most popular and valuable franchise in the most popular and prosperous American sports league, despite zero Super Bowl appearances in a quarter-century – would drive home a social justice message like none other.

Sure, not a single Cowboys player has taken a knee during the national anthem since Kaepernick’s protest season in 2016. And team owner Jerry Jones is the face of resistance to player protests, even though he recently added “grace” to the conversation about protests.

A few other high-profile teams – say, the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers or Kansas City Chiefs – could also try using their platform to move the needle.

After all, the NFL is listening to its players now, Goodell has pledged.

Well, on top of devising contingency plans for dealing with potential COVID-19 outbreaks, the league had better brace itself for protests that could go far beyond kneeling.

The Lions’ action on Tuesday, embraced by increasingly woke head coach Matt Patricia, began with heart-to-heart conversations that went on for the better part of four hours. After they talked, they shared sentiments with the media.

Matthew Stafford, the star quarterback, said it was the proudest he’s ever been to be a part of the team. Trey Flowers, the standout defensive end, shared sentiments about concerns for fathers, sons, cousins and nephews in an environment where too often Black people are treated with a double standard, with hostility from those sworn to protect and serve.

Taylor Decker, an offensive line pillar, shared how moved he was to hear a Black teammate explain that he had to call his mother each night to assure her that he had arrived home safely from work. Decker added how he’s never had such fears of encountering police violence while driving as a white man.

Kudos to the Lions. I’d imagine their break from football brought them closer together with a deeper level of understanding for each other. Their external messages – including “We Will Not Stay Silent!!” and “The World Can’t Go On!” – were well-intentioned to change minds.

We heard a lot of heartfelt messages, too, from the NFL community (and way beyond) after George Floyd was killed on the street in Minneapolis by a white police officer who kneeled on his neck. Then, several months later, the shooting of Blake happened.

The real messages, coming from NFL players as well as all Americans, need to sharply demand accountability. Police, like other citizens, must pay a price with criminal convictions, for violating the rights of people in the heinous fashion that too often victimizes Black and Brown people.

That’s one form of social justice. And if the NFL is serious about listening to its players, supporting its players and having some grace, then the messaging will only get louder.

Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.

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