Matt Nagy did an important thing to begin this week. He listened.
He listened to upward of 40 members of the Chicago Bears talk on a Zoom call for two hours (all that’s allotted by the NFL during OTAs).
Nagy is the white coach of a majority Black team.
He will never understand what it’s like to be defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who as a 6-foot-4, 350-pound Black man said he’s often viewed as an aggressor because of his size. Or what it’s like to be linebacker Danny Trevathan’s mother, kissing her child -- who's now a parent himself -- on the head before he left the house because she feared her son would never come back.
But Nagy made sure not only he listened, but the 139 people on the call listened.
“There was a lot of anger,” Nagy said. “There was a lot of fear in the conversations. There was disgust. There was sadness. There was compassion, hurt, and then there was even at times some stories that I know, surprise.”
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A few players posted to Twitter after the meeting:
But what made the meeting notable is how genuine it felt to those involved. Take it from Hicks, who’s been in the NFL for eight years and knows how disingenuous things like it can sometimes be.
Here are Hicks’ comments, in full, on the meeting (please take the time to read the entire transcript of Hicks’ 30 minutes with Chicago media on Wednesday, too):
“To be completely honest with you, I didn’t have much feeling towards it. I wasn’t excited to get on that call,” Hicks said. “I didn’t think anything positive was going to come from it. I didn’t know why we were having this moment where we were singing kumbaya and trying to get over what’s really happening in the world. I felt like it might be a control situation where they want to control the narrative and point us in a direction so when we talk to you guys there’s only going to be a certain message that you guys hear.
“It was the complete opposite. It was totally different.
“I watched young black men, young white men, older coaches from all across the United States and watching everybody rebuild themselves in a way that isn’t common in sport or masculinity in general, and express their real feelings. Out in the open. Out in positions where you feel like somebody could start pointing at you and say, ‘Oh, I don’t know if that’s a good guy. I don’t know [if] we want him or that’s the type of person we want around the building.’
“Everybody let those feelings go and shared from the heart and shared their real experiences. There was some hurtful stuff in there. There was some stuff where people were changed and altered for life. And I won’t speak on it because that’s their story, and that’s what they’re dealing with.
“But I will say this: As a team, there was a level of healing involved in that call, and there was a level of us just coming together. We just got a little bit tighter because we had this experience together. It was a positive call and I think it changed the lives of some of the young men on the team, and it changed mine. It changed my perspective on life.”
The conversation the Bears, as a team, had on Monday was also not done just so a few people could feel good doing it, and then doing nothing about it. Nagy said he wants to begin every meeting in the future with continued discussion so his team can keep thinking about things much bigger than football and how they can help, collectively or individually, make a difference.
“When you see any kind of stereotypical being done or any kind of discrimination happening, I think that everybody, if they continue to speak up and not be silent or not turn a blind eye to it, I think that we'll continue to make this world a better place,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “I think that's the biggest thing. And that's that people who are actually living in it, like myself, like my family, like my teammates, for guys to continue to get in the community and to continue to impact the community. I think that's the biggest thing to be able to not right now just when all this is going on, to try to impact how you can.
“I think it's to impact things when this isn't going on to continue to be able to transcend things going in a positive direction on an every day basis, rather than just sparingly when events like this happen.”
Both Robinson and Trevathan said they felt the conversations with their white teammates were productive, too.
“I have yet to meet Nick Foles but just to see his aspect of him speaking up, that made me feel like this is a guy I’d go to war for, this is a guy I want to fight for,” Trevathan said. “We have plenty of people speaking up. Mitch (Trubisky). Cody (Whitehair). Pat O’Donnell. And it’s not easy because they have a different voice than the voice I have. It’s reaching different areas. When you have a team that fights together and not just talk about that stuff, not just talk about it but really does something about it — they care for one another. And it makes you want to fight for those guys a lot harder.”
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The issues of racial injustice, police brutality, white privilege, etc. — these are not easy issues to discuss. Not everybody in a crowd of 139 people is going to be on the same page. You don’t have to guess how some of Drew Brees’ teammates felt about him saying this on a Yahoo! show a day after joining in on #BlackOutTuesday.
But progress for the issues facing Black Americans, hopefully, can start with people from different backgrounds listening to and hearing what Black Americans are saying (it seems Brees needs to do more of that), and then doing something about it not just once or a few times. The Bears managed to foster those discussions and conversations for two hours on Monday.
Maybe, just maybe, it’d be a good thing if the rest of the nation started where the Bears did. By listening. And then acting.
“I think it means a lot for everybody to acknowledge what’s going on, and acknowledge the rights and wrongs of the world,” Robinson said. “The challenge is to continue to acknowledge that. It’s not so easy. To continue to challenge, and go against the grain. Whether that’s somebody that somebody knows, or an old friend or a current friend. If they’re doing saying something that’s (not) right, continuing to challenge them on what’s truly acceptable or not. I think that’s where the challenge lies.
“Again, being able to see that across the country and across the world in different countries, and everybody coming together, and everybody acknowledging that, I think that’s very good to see. And again the challenge lies in continuing to keep that effort going forward.”
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