FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Tears were shed, hugs were exchanged, the conversations were deep and gut-wrenching.
As the Jets discussed Sunday’s shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wisconsin police, the emotions were raw. And for safety Bradley McDougald, it represented a breaking point.
“I’m just sick and tired of being sick and tired,” McDougald said Wednesday after practice. “Guys are sick of talking about it. We’re sick of sharing our emotions about it. We’re hurt. To have that type of deep conversation and then snap right back in football mode is just … it’s crazy, but it’s the life we’re living. It’s the world we’re living in.”
Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was allegedly shot multiple times during a confrontation with police after they were called over a dispute involving Blake. He is hospitalized, and family members say he is paralyzed from the waist down. Blake’s shooting comes three months after 46-year-old George Floyd died during an arrest in which Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd’s death set off nationwide protests and discussions about police brutality and racial injustice. It’s something that NFL players have been addressing since former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem during the 2016 season.
“My heart goes out to the family, but I mean, it seems like all we can do is talk and formulate ideas,” said McDougald, who was acquired in last month’s trade of Jamal Adams to the Seahawks. “Guys are getting tired of talking and formulating this perfect idea.”
But there was something different McDougald noticed when the Jets, up to and including head coach Adam Gase and the team’s chief executive officer Christopher Johnson, discussed the matter on Tuesday.
“It was the first time I’ve seen guys really affected as they were,” McDougald said. “Some guys shed tears. Me personally, I’m hurt by the whole situation. I’m an African American man, and that easily could have been me. As soon as I walk out of 1 Jets Drive (the address of the team’s training facility), I’m just another Black man, and I don’t know how a cop is going to see me. I have dreads and tattoos, and I’m bigger than the average male, but I don’t know how that cop is going to view me and the attitude and aggression he’s going to give me.”
For McDougald and other Jets players, the issue simply won’t go away. And they don’t want to stop talking about it.
“A lot of my brothers in the locker room, they don’t want it swept under the rug,” he said. “This is not a one-day topic. This is something real in our communities that we’re dealing with, and I’m going to deal with it the rest of my life. My kids are going to deal with it. That’s just the fact of the matter.”
Wide receiver Jamison Crowder was reminded of an incident during his college career at Duke.
“I was trying to be a student athlete, doing the right things, and to be stereotyped and to be targets because of the car I was driving, it was hurtful,” he said. “I feel like I could easily be a victim, and it shouldn’t even be that. Just see me as a human.”
Lions players were so upset over Sunday’s shooting that they canceled practice, held a team meeting and then met with the media to air their grievances. McDougald commended the players for taking a strong stand but lamented these and other actions simply haven’t been enough.
“The same situations we were dealing with yesterday, we’re dealing with today,” he said. “We could all go out there for the first (game) and take a knee (during the anthem) and we walk out of the locker room, that issue is still going to be the same. It was great what (the Lions) did, but just like every other peaceful protest, every other movement that we started, hashtags that we started, it still comes back to nothing is settled, nothing is really getting done. There have to be judicial changes. We’ve got more work to do.”