Plenty of football coaches rail against “distractions,” a cliché used to describe anything not related to football. They don’t want players having “distractions” during the season, less it take attention away from the thing that matters most: Football.
But as professional athletes across the United States decided not to play this week, be it a playoff game or a regular season game or a practice, the “distractions” were flipped. Sports, as athletes in the NBA, WNBA, NFL, MLS, NHL and MLB saw it, were the distraction from the thing that matters most in the wake of yet another incident of police shooting a Black man or woman, videotaped for the world to see.
And it’s clear athletes, including those on the Bears, will continue to use their platform – no matter the cost – to address and try to change systemic racism and police brutality.
“Lemme say this. Football is a game. What we’re talking about is real life,” Bears’ outside linebacker Robert Quinn said. “And one day, we’re all going to be done playing football, and I’m going to still have to live as a dark-skinned Black (man), African-American, whatever y’all want an adjective for, there’s so many names y’all like to throw out.
“At the end of the day, my skin is dark and football is a game. And American history has shown that they belittle dark-skinned people. So while I’m playing this game, I’m going to play it to the full max. But I’m not going to put no game before my god dang life.
“… So for someone to say us taking time to address certain issues, the distraction from the game, it takes away. I don’t think people realize football is just a game. If you look like me, you approach the situation different. While we’re on the field we’re one, but as soon as we leave we all get looked at different, unless we tell them we’re in the NFL.
“Is this game more important than my life? No it ain’t.”
Matt Nagy, by the way, is not someone who views the Black Lives Matter movement as a distraction.
The third-year Bears’ coach said he fully supported his players’ decision to not practice Thursday in the aftermath of Kenosha police shooting Jacob Blake seven times, and the unrest that followed in a city only 40 minutes north of Halas Hall.
Nagy’s support, also, would extend to the regular season if any of his players decided to not play in protest of police brutality and racial injustice.
“If that is something they feel strong about, that football is secondary and that is what they want to do, we support that,” Nagy said. “Do we want them to do that? No. But they have the right to make that decision and we’re a family here.
“We are so tight right now into how we have discussions internally, the way we talk to each other, let me just tell you (Thursday) was extremely emotional for us and raw and this time it was live, it wasn’t over Zoom. There was a lot of … several people that talked and again, I’m going to keep that internally out of respect to all of us, but we’re at another level in regards to tightness and unified.
“If that’s the route that somebody wants to go and they know we love them, they make that choice of what they need to do, we support them and we’ll just move on from there.”
Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan said players and the team are putting together a plan for what actions to take, and he later specifically mentioned education and change in schools. The Bears already helped all their players register to vote upon arriving at Halas Hall last month, and when it comes to actions, quarterback Mitch Trubisky, left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and general manager Ryan Pace were part of a group that helped ex-Bears linebacker Sam Acho purchase a West Side liquor store situated in a food desert and turn it into a grocery store.
But Trevathan also on Saturday spoke to a sad reality: Blake’s shooting likely will not be the last time police are filmed brutalizing and/or killing a Black man or woman.
“I’m hoping and praying that it was the last one,” Trevathan said. “But I’ve been praying about that for a long time.”
Just this year alone, America learned the names of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and now Blake. In years past, we learned who Philando Castillo, Botham Jean, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner and Michael Brown were all because they were killed by police.
And because of them, and because of the history of slavery and lynching and Jim Crow and redlining and far too many other injustices against Black communities to list, the real “distraction” in 2020 just might be football.
“If you really take the scenario of Kenosha and look at American history, that's American history for you,” Quinn said. “People that look like me that have been hunted for a long time, we've been forced into basically illegal slavery for that time, the quote-un-quote laws that make it legal. So again, people that look like me, this Kenosha thing this ain't no one-time incident, it's, 400, 500 years of American history that we try to claim to be so proud about.
“But when you look like me what's there to be proud about when, no offense, people that look like you (white) disrespect people that look like me. So why am I supposed to sit there and defend the flag that don't defend me?”