Joe Judge assumed that his first offseason program as head coach of the Giants would involve a lot of teaching. He figured he’d have to spend those few months explaining to all of the players, most of whom had never met him before he was hired in January, who he is, what his expectations are, and his vision of what the team can be.
When that process began in April, Judge’s skill at communicating and explaining those ideas — plus the basic concepts of new offensive and defensive systems, by the way — became even more critical because it was all done virtually because of limitations to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
But as the program ended, with veterans wrapping up their involvement in the voluntary meetings last week and rookies continuing until a little later this month, it wasn’t Judge proselytizing from his pulpit that defined the sessions and began shaping the personality of his squad. In fact, it turned out to be the exact opposite.
The weeks since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis have altered much about the country, forcing conversations and discussions about race, and the Giants’ online meetings were no exception. Judge’s role in that process? The teacher had to become the student.
“The biggest thing we can do right now is listen,” Judge told Newsday this week. “I don’t have all the answers. The most important thing I can do is try to understand all of the players and if I’m going to be a voice for the team I have to listen and I have to try my best to understand everybody’s point of view and perspective. And then we have to work together to actually do something and make a difference. That’s what our focus is.”
That began with open discussions among the team — players, coaches, management and ownership.
“We were able to hear a lot of our players share experiences and thoughts and help us to further understand,” Judge said. “We’re going to work to make an impact and a sustained difference. That’s really what we’re looking to do. Right now the players are about action, getting out and getting involved in the community. Right now a lot of our players are getting connected with organizations through our team that they can work alongside to accomplish their goals of being active within the communities. We’re committed to do that as a team. We’re committed to doing that. We’re going to continue these conversations throughout training camp, throughout the season. We’re going to be a team that can speak openly, a team that can understand the individuals that go into the collective team, and we’re going to support each other.”
That, Judge said, will include whatever actions the Giants decide to take whenever they play their first game and the national anthem is played. Judge said there have yet to be any formal discussions regarding whether the team will kneel in protest of racial injustice — those will take place as the games get closer — but he made it clear that it will be up to the players to decide what happens.
“We’re going to listen to the players and we’re going to make sure that whatever action we take that we’re unified on it,” he said. “We haven’t addressed what we’re going to do on game days yet so I can’t tell you what it may or may not be, but we’re going to support the players on this. We’re going to do whatever it is to support the players and show support for the cause.”
So far, that has included statements from the league, the team, and a statement from Daniel Jones last week in which the quarterback said he “proudly stand[s] beside my brothers and the entire black community in support of the Black Lives Matter movement to end systemic racism.”
“We want our players to be involved,” Judge said. “They do have a platform. We want to support our players, we want to make sure that they can use their platform to make a difference.”
Judge did offer some guidance in that regard.
“The point I tried to make to our players is, before you ever put anything out there, make sure it’s exactly what you want to put out there,” he said. “Think. Be articulate in your words. And then never feel the need to defend or clarify what you are putting out there.”
Many players went beyond statements and participated in protests around the country. They also have worked with police departments to bridge the gaps in communities. Judge seemed pleased by that.
“We don’t want to just have words, empty words,” he said. “We want to make sure that we are working toward something together and working to make a difference, that we’re involved in the communities, that we’re involved in making sustained difference … We have to be a team of action. There are a lot of people just putting statements out there and saying things, but do our actions match up with our words? We have to make sure they do.”
It’s a conversation and a direction that Judge said will continue once the players report to training camp, which is scheduled for late July. And one that will continue between now and then as well.
“It’s not going to stop,” Judge said of the discussions. “There is no offseason from doing the right thing.”