As the country reels from the latest police shooting– this time Jacob Blake being paralyzed after police shot him in the back seven times– athletes across basketball, baseball, football and soccer have ramped up their protests. The NBA postponed a full slate of playoff games. MLB, MLS and the WNBA pushed back games as well. Several football teams, including the Bears, canceled practice to have team discussions instead.
All of this has prompted reactions from fans, pundits and former players alike, including Bears Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher, who shared this message on Instagram Thursday morning.
Because most athletes and many fans have voiced support for the NBA players boycotting playoff games, it’s easy to want to dismiss Urlacher as being on the wrong side of a humanitarian movement. Sure enough, some fans were already calling to “cancel” Urlacher on social media. However, that’s not a productive way to approach a statement like this, especially during a time when our country desperately needs to come together. Instead, let’s use this as a springboard to explain why Urlacher may have missed the point of these protests, and why you can’t compare Brett Favre’s personal tragedy to Wednesday’s NBA boycotts.
To start, let’s dig in to Favre’s historic performance after his father’s death. Favre took the field, steeled himself and played magnificently, only one day after his father died suddenly of a heart attack while driving. It’s both tragic and traumatic, and nothing should diminish that, or Favre’s inspirational game. But it was a personal tragedy, and his father didn’t die unjustly at the hands of someone else, or a system of oppression. There’s no one to hold accountable for Irvin Favre’s death.
That’s not the case with Jacob Blake’s shooting. Sure, it’s a personal tragedy for Blake’s family, just like it was a personal tragedy for George Floyd’s family, and Breonna Taylor’s family, and Elijah McClain’s family, and Laquan McDonald’s family… But the fact is, those tragedies are a product of a broader issue affecting the entire Black community, as well as other people of color.
Duron Harmon put it best when addressing the media after the Detroit Lions canceled practice to hold a team meeting about the shootings.
“While some people think that we’re just football players, this league, 67%– two-thirds of its players– are African American,” Harmon said. “Jacob Blake could have been anybody’s brother, cousin, uncle, friend. Could have been them. And it wasn’t OK.
“This organization is going to make sure we speak out on it,” Harmon later said during a virtual press availability. “We can’t be silent anymore.”
So, back to the NBA. The players who united to boycott games on Wednesday thought they couldn’t be silent any longer either. They made a stand because people can be held accountable for the long list of Black victims of police shootings.
Several studies have shown that Black people are disproportionately killed by police, compared to their representation in the U.S. population– with findings ranging from two, to nearly three times more likely. Some of these studies note that Black victims are more likely to die in an encounter with law enforcement, despite the fact that Black victims were unarmed in 5% more cases than white victims. That is just one example, albeit the most fatal example, of white privilege.
It’s white privilege to get a ticket for a simple parking violation, instead of getting tased like Milwaukee Bucks forward Sterling Brown. Brown ended up on the ground with a knee on his neck, a foot on his ankle and guns pointed at him, just for double parking in a handicap spot at a drugstore early one morning. That’s why NBA players are protesting. Because they’ve unfortunately experienced first hand what people of color across the United States have experienced for generations
To be clear, this is not an argument about criminality. This is an argument that all races need to be treated equally by law enforcement. It’s an argument that there’s a problem when Breonna Taylor died after police served a no-knock warrant at her apartment, while Kyle Rittenhouse was able to walk past police after shooting and killing two people in Kenosha, to be arrested the next day without a shot being fired.
Reforms can be made to start undoing centuries of this systemic racism in America. NBA players are now doing what they can to bring about that change.
The Bears are distancing themselves from a social media post that Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher shared Thursday morning.
Following the Bucks-led boycott of Wednesday night’s NBA games, and the eventual postponement of all NBA games on Thursday, Urlacher shared this message:
“The social media posts in no way reflect the values or opinions of the Chicago Bears organization,” the team said in the statement.
Urlacher played for the Bears from 2000-2012 and the team honored his Hall of Fame induction with a special ring ceremony in 2018.
#Bears starting RB David Montgomery, who went down in practice yesterday with a groin injury, is expected to be out 2-4 weeks, source said. That gives him a chance of being out on the field for the opener vs. the #Lions.
Normally, it’d be relevant. The Bears’ top running back, injured just a day prior, may actually be ready for the start of the season. Big news, right?
Wondering how the Bears can fix their running back room is a distraction from figuring out how the country in which we live can fix its persistent problem of police shooting and brutalizing Black men and women. In the aftermath of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisc. – which is a shorter drive from Halas Hall than downtown Chicago is – Bears players decided to not participate in football activities Thursday.
“In the wake of what has taken place in our backyard of Kenosha over the last couple of days, we as a team have a lot on our mind today,” a statement attributed to Bears players read. “We decided to pause our football activities to voice to each other, our coaches and our staff where we stand on the real issues around race and police brutality in our country.
“We had a productive discussion, but we all agreed that talks and discussions are simply not enough anymore and we need action. We are putting in plans to take action in our communities and together we believe we can make a real difference. We need action not only today, but in the days to come.”
Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with homicide in connection to the shooting deaths of two protesters in Kenosha this week, was arrested in his home of Antioch, Ill, only about 30 minutes from Halas Hall. Rittenhouse was taken into custody in Lake County, Ill. – the same county in which the Bears practice, and plenty of players live.
Not that the latest example of police brutality and societal unrest over it had to come in the Bears’ backyard for action to be taken. Eight other teams canceled practices Thursday, joining teams in the NBA, WNBA, MLB, MLS and NHL in canceling games in the last 24 hours.
And while players did not cancel a game, canceling practice is a big deal. A truncated training camp meant only 15 practices could be held between Aug. 17 and Sept. 3, with the Bears opening the 2020 season Sept. 13 against the Detroit Lions (who canceled practice Tuesday in the aftermath of Blake’s shooting).
The Bears need every practice snap they can get to evaluate their quarterback competition, to get in football shape, to prepare for the regular season after a disappointing 2019. Losing out on a day of work this year matters quite a bit – it’s why the Bears still practiced Sunday after a morning coronavirus scare, even if it was a short walkthrough.
But the impact Thursday’s decision by players to not practice does not matter. What matters is players felt so compelled to do so because yet another Black man was shot by police.
Four years and one day after Colin Kaepernick first knelt to protest police brutality and racial injustice during the national anthem, nine football teams chose to focus their energy on what actions can be taken to fix the problems Kaepernick highlighted in his demonstration.
The Bears, already, are involved with community organizations such as I Grow Chicago, Build Chicago, Youth Guidance and My Block, My City, My Hood. Upon arriving at Halas Hall for training camp, all players were allowed the opportunity to register to vote with the help of the Lake County Clerk’s office.
« We’re trying to help people get out there and vote, » linebacker Danny Trevathan told the Bears’ official website. « A lot of people don’t use their right. I know for me when I turned 18, I knew I had the right to vote, but I didn’t know how to do it. Education was a part of it.
« It’s important because that’s who makes the laws. They control the police. They control the judges, the schools, who’s getting this, who’s getting that, little things that are really big things. So I would encourage everybody who has the voting right to go out there and use that and don’t take it for granted. »
Register to Vote! To my black family and community let’s take advantage of the opportunity to create change. #RegisterToVote #BlackLivesMatter #BeTheChange
But something wide receiver Allen Robinson said back in May, in the aftermath of a Minneapolis police officer murdering George Floyd, still sticks with me.
“I think it’s just continuing to challenge people to take the initiative on a regular basis rather than an events-based basis,” he said. Calls for change and action cannot continue to come only when police officers are caught on camera brutalizing and killing Black men and women.
On Thursday, in the aftermath of another one of those horrific videos, Bears players decided to not practice and instead push for continued action.
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