Sherman, Long weigh in on how players can bring about change
Since George Floyd was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, the aftermath has seen protests across the world.
Along with the protests has come discussion in regards to Floyd’s death, the immediate reactions and what needs to change going forward.
On Tuesday, NFL Total Access hosted a roundtable discussion featuring Richard Sherman and Chris Long, who joined NFL Network’s Jim Trotter and Steve Wyche. It was the second night of discussion hosted by Wyche, who welcomed Josh Norman and Josh McCown, along with NFL Network’s Michael Robinson, the night prior.
Sherman, a 49ers cornerback, is an NFL Players Association vice president, while the retired Long is a member of the NFL Players Coalition and the 2018 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year.
Among the topics discussed were football coaches speaking up, Colin Kaepernick’s role in current conversations and finally what teams and players can do to bring about need change to do away with racial inequality.
In 2016, Kaepernick began kneeling before games to protest police brutality. He has not played in the NFL since the 2016 season.
Sherman and Long were asked how the treatment of Kaepernick was felt throughout league locker rooms.
“I can’t speak for every locker room. I can only speak to ours and I was in Seattle at the time, obviously. There are a lot of individuals who had very powerful voices and had their own unique thoughts on everything. It was disappointing,” Sherman said. “But it’s just like any other job. It’s like, ‘Hey this employee is getting black-balled.’ What do other employees do? We’re speaking up on the same issues that he’s speaking up on. We’re making our points. We’re doing it, obviously, differently than what he did, but the way that they viewed him was wrong.
“His was just one of those issues that was at the forefront. And everybody saw it and they did it in plain sight. And no one, no real public backlash, no real public sentiment. Because, for the most part, people aren’t effected by police brutality in a way that African Americans are. So, we were frustrated, we were angry, but you know, there was not much you can do.”
Long’s sentiments ran along the lines of Sherman’s.
“I just thought it was unfortunate,” he said. “Here’s a guy who was trying to bring light to a serious topic that we all are paying attention to now, but he doesn’t have a job. And not only that, I didn’t feel like enough people in the league spoke out about it. And that was disappointing. But we don’t get a do-over on Kap. For players in the league right now — four years later — that haven’t said anything about it, now’s not the time to opt out. Because the last time we did, you see what happens. So it just continues and continues. And we are role models. And people are always saying role models look after your community. Well, your community, on the list is police brutality. We can do turkey drives and toy drives, every Christmas and Thanksgiving and everybody pats us on the back. I want to be a part of a solution. And I know a lot of players like that and now it’s time to speak out on real substantive issues in our community, because that’s included in being a role model.”
So Wyche asked the looming question — in the shadow of Kaepernick’s protests and the subsequent fallout along with the aftermath of Floyd’s death — how can true change and accountability be brought about?
“Well, I think, No. 1 is acknowledgement,” Long said. “I think that people are desperate to hear acknowledgement from people in positions of power, corporations, leagues. Especially leagues that are predominately black. I think far too often fans say, whether it was Kap, or Kenny Stills or Malcolm Jenkins, ‘Oh you feel so unsafe — you’re a millionaire.’ Having money doesn’t negate the reality of being black in America. You can scoff at that, you can scoff all day long; it doesn’t make it untrue. I have teammates that explain to me that they worry about their children. It doesn’t matter that they have money, it’s not about that.”
For the former Eagles defensive end, bringing about true change extends behind the scenes. He continued that one way to bring about change in his belief was to focus on police unions.
“I understand that there has to be a general sense of being upset and that’s what these protests are about, too, but to me, the direction, and I look at soft spots of where we can improve this whole situation, not as just athletes, but as people in general is read about what police unions do for policing in America and what they don’t do to improve it. I could go all day about the union thing. It is a crazy rabbit hole to go down. And it’s making it easy for police to get off when they do really bad things.”
Sherman was in complete agreement with Long’s thoughts. He added that the matter is all the more maddening when the message is not received — even when it’s playing out across a television screen.
“The frustrating part is because the people that the message is trying to get through to are unwilling to accept the message. And when you’re combative and defensive about something you don’t even fully understand, there can’t be progress. So whenever somebody says, ‘Hey this black man got killed on national TV in front of the world,’ there should be a sense of anger from everybody, regardless of race — because it was just wrong.”
When Trotter weighed in, he stressed that change will not come over night, but it can come.
“The things that I would say is No. 1, you have to be willing to listen; No. 2 you have to be willing to learn and No. 3 you have to be intentional about change. It just can’t be about making a statement and stopping there. I think change comes incrementally, it’s not going to come overnight. I look at some of the things, for instance, that the players coalition is doing. And it has been successful in making a change that are critical to minority communities.
“There are little steps there that are taken that I think are important to addressing some of these things.”
One perhaps major step, Trotter suggests, is bringing about a change in leadership — not just in the highest office, but likewise locally.
“The other thing I would say as we get closer to Nov. 3, is that elections matter,” Trotter said. “And I remember the last election cycle, we heard people saying, ‘Well I don’t like either candidate, so I’m not going to vote.’ And when they don’t vote on that ballot, what they’re leaving off is a lot of local issues that affect our communities. So I would say, we have to address that as well. You can’t say I don’t like both the two presidential candidates, so I’m not going to vote when there are so many issues on that ballot that relate to how we are treated and the people who are treating us in a certain way.”
“We have to vote for sure; we also have to hold legislators accountable when it comes to accepting donations from law enforcement officer unions and that sort of thing,” Long said. “We have to vote on local levels and hold legislators accountable, too.”
The roundtable discussion between Steve Wyche, Jim Trotter, Richard Sherman and Chris Long continues Wednesday on NFL Total Access.