A day after saying how much thought goes into his t-shirt selection, Eagles safety Rodney McLeod wore a shirt on Thursday afternoon with a simple yet poignant message across his heart.
The Eagles held practice on Thursday morning at the NovaCare Complex and it felt pretty much like a normal day. Of course, it wasn’t. In the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bucks elected to strike, which led to a cancelation of games across North American sports that has continued into Thursday.
The Eagles decided to practice on Thursday morning and escaped some harsh realities for about two hours. Instead of simply canceling practice, McLeod said the Eagles already have an action plan for change in areas of police brutality, education reform and systemic racism.
That action planned stemmed from an open and candid discussion on Wednesday night, when head coach Doug Pederson began the team meeting on those topics and then opened the floor. Football meetings were canceled.
Among those to speak to the entire team on Wednesday night were McLeod, Jalen Mills and Zach Ertz.
“My message was we get caught up playing this sport that we’re fortunate enough to play, but we do get confined within these walls in this fantasy world I guess you could call it and we’re kind of removed from the harsh realities that do exist among Black men. And the majority of our league is representative of Black men,” McLeod said. “So believe it or not, when we walk outside these doors without this jersey on, without this shield, without these cleats, we’re seen as the same as a Jacob Blake or a George Floyd.
“When we’re in our cars or we come across a police offer, that fear still exists for us, and it’s real. And it was a candid conversation that was had and I wanted to get that message across. And the fact that us as Black men, we’re fortunate enough to have this platform and fortunate enough where we’re able to touch people but be the voices of our communities that are being impacted, because that could have well been our brother, our sister, our children, our mom or dad. Let’s just be real. And so that was just what I wanted to get across and more importantly what are we going to do as an organization. How are we going to represent this city and be an example potentially for this country to follow?”
Carson Wentz was one of three Eagles — along with McLeod and Mills — to speak to reporters on Thursday afternoon. There’s a reason for that; he’s a team leader and has been much more outspoken and candid on matters of racial injustice in recent months. He admitted he ignored racism for too long, but he’s growing up. While he didn’t spend his formative years with many Black classmates in North Dakota, he explained that’s no longer an excuse.
Wentz said there are a lot of “heavy hearts” in the Eagles’ locker room and there’s been a lot of educating going on. Specifically, Wentz and his white teammates are showing empathy, trying to truly understand the plight of Black men in America.
That understanding has likely grown as he’s heard his own teammates and friends tell him about their personal experiences with racism. That’s exactly what Mills talked about on Wednesday night.
“Just me being from the south, born and raised in Dallas, I've seen, growing up, eighth grade, ninth grade year, friends hanging out at the movies and just because it's a group of young African-American teenagers hanging out, the police come over and they mess with us, and they pull out their tasers and tell everybody, hands up, don't move,” Mills said. “And I seen one of my friends actually get — didn't move, he just kind of moved his head to look at one of our other friends in fear and he got shot in the face with a taser, and he had to wear a — it was a patch on his face, and yeah, he had to wear that for about I think about a month-and-a-half in school, had a patch on his face because the taser had burnt the skin on his face.
“Also, growing up, I said, driving in Dallas, you see the police, they get behind, the first thing as a young teenager you say is, ‘shh, be quiet, turn the music down, the police are behind you,’ but us young-minded, we're not even thinking like now, the police can't hear us out of the car. They can't hear what we're saying. They can't hear what we're talking about. But that's just the fear of it. I have so many more experiences, but that was just kind of the things that I kind of highlighted that I experienced in my life.”
So what’s next for the Eagles? How do they turn positive discussions into tangible change?
Well, McLeod didn’t divulge that action plan he mentioned but said it’s coming along. He hadn’t yet talked to players from other teams but said that might happen too. The Eagles already had a social justice committee on the schedule this week, so those leaders will further discuss ways to positively effect change including and beyond protests.
But McLeod also made a concerted and pointed effort to put more pressure on NFL ownership.
“In the recent month or two I feel like it’s become somewhat of an afterthought, I would say,” McLeod said. “There hasn’t been much push, I believe. And I think us as NFL players, the challenge is now on these owners. We want them to speak out on a lot of these issues that exist for their players just as much as we’re held accountable and we represent each organization a certain way when we leave this building, we expect them to now stand up and speak out on these issues to protect us as black men, and I think that is the message that we as players should really enforce. That these owners come together and not only support us privately but step up and support us publicly as well as we’re dealing with a lot of these issues that exist right now.
“We’ve got to hold these police officers to a certain standard, hold them accountable. And until then, we will continue to protest, continue to use our voice and continue to possibly take extreme measures. You’re witnessing that right now. When have we ever seen a group of athletes decide not to play a playoff meaningful game? And that shows you the magnitude of this situation. People are fed up. And enough is enough.”