Akiem Hicks arrived in Chicago in 2016 on a two-year contract — which, really, was a one-year deal with the way it was structured. 2016 is the year Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality.
Is it all that crazy to think one of the NFL’s best, most dominant defensive players could’ve been out of the league had he taken a knee too?
“At that time when Kaepernick was taking a knee I had the same thought that 85, 90 percent of the league thought at that moment,” Hicks said Wednesday. “If I get down on one knee in front of this stadium, I am fired. My job, my career, my life is over. I will be blackballed.
“And then to come out on the other end and watch it actually happen to Kaepernick it just tells me my feelings were real. It was the reality and hopefully it won't be going forward.”
Hopefully. Hopefully the NFL does not banish a player for a peaceful protest.
Because it seems apparent quite a few players, after George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, are going to peacefully protest in some way during the 2020 season.
MORE: Akiem Hicks on the Bears' powerful team meeting Monday
So is the NFL actually ready not only for more demonstrations by its players, but also to support them?
A number of things that happened on Wednesday, 10 days after George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, suggest the league as a whole might be.
First of all: All three players who met with Chicago media — Hicks, linebacker Danny Trevathan and wide receiver Allen Robinson — all talked openly and frankly about Kaepernick’s message, demonstration and ultimate blackballing from the league. Hicks, notably, said when finishing a thought on Kaepernick (who was a free agency in 2017): "We signed Mike Glennon."
But four years removed from Kaepernick's first protest, there was some hope among some of the Bears' most important leaders that something similar wouldn't be received the same way in 2020.
“I feel like a lot of people have more time to think about it than back then,” Trevathan said. “Back then it was just, like, made about one situation, about the military, and that’s what everybody was focusing on. ‘People are disrespecting the flag, disrespecting the military.’ I’ve got people in my family that fought for America in the military, different branches. So it wasn’t about that.
“It was about something bigger than that issue. It was about police brutality and the way we treat people. Right now, I feel like we are taking a different stand because people are sick of it.”
Kaepernick’s message was “hijacked by the wrong voices,” as Robinson said. But it seems like we’re past the point of that message being hijacked anymore. Look at the swift condemnation of Drew Brees, who said when asked about players possibly kneeling again when the season starts: “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.”
Those are players, though, speaking out against Brees. But what about the NFL establishment — the league officials, owners, general managers, etc.?
“I do think that they would be tolerant of it,” Robinson said. “Do I think (kneeling) is the next step? I’m not sure if that’s the next step but I think that’s probably in the talks of being a possible kind of action taken.
“… I think that could possibly be something that would just kind of show the unity of the league and teams acknowledging the wrong that they had with that and just how that kind of whole situation went down. But is that the exact cause of action? I’m not 100% sure, but I’m pretty sure that will probably be thrown in the mix somehow.”
Hicks, though, hoped more action would be taken going forward than taking a knee during the national anthem in protest of police brutality.
“I guess in my mind, I want another step,” Hicks said. “I want to see something bigger, different. That already turned out negatively, and we understood what (Kaepernick) meant by it. I will say this: Let’s make the situation better. I’ll choose change over having to take another knee. I’d rather we just move on.”
MORE: Matt Forte calls for police accountability at peaceful Chicago protest
Bears coach Matt Nagy didn’t specifically commit to supporting players who would take a knee in protest, but did commit to doing a lot of listening and expected whatever his team did, they'd do together.
“I’ll look for advice from the players,” Nagy said. “Hey, how do you think we should handle this?”
Those demonstrations may not necessarily look like Kaepernick’s. Maybe they will. Players have three months — assuming the season starts on time amid the COVID-19 pandemic — to discuss and decide how to use their gameday platforms to try to effect change and make our country safe and equitable for the Black community.
But it feels like players are feeling not only emboldened to do more, but feel more secure in doing so. And that's key, because one of the most important things I heard today was Robinson talking about not letting the activism and the pushes for progress get lost as we get farther and farther away from the killing of George Floyd.
Here’s what he had to say:
“I think the biggest thing for me is challenging everybody — African-American, other ethnicities, white, no matter what it is — to even when we get past these next days, weeks, months, to keep the same energy and keep the same mindset that you have now,” Robinson said. “As open as your eyes and ears are right now in this current moment, in the future, to have that same kind of humility, to have your eyes and ears open.
“To people who are protesting and to some people who are looting, that fire and that passion that you have for your community and for your peers of whatever ethnic group you’re from, have that same energy when it comes to being able to give back in the community when things aren’t happening when a man is being killed for being Black and being arrested. Have that same kind of passion and compassion in the future.
“I think that if we can do that you’ll see a greater change where it doesn’t take all this happening for somebody to hold up a sign, to go march in the street. You can still get your voice out. You can still give back to the community. You can still do all those things.
“The caucasian people we may know, to go out there, it’s the same thing. It doesn’t take this for somebody to be, okay, we’re acknowledging what’s right or wrong. If you’re walking down the street and you see something that isn’t right happening, to let your voice be known that that isn’t right. I think if we do that as people, I think everything will start to become better, a better place, and just start to naturally start to become better.”
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