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Detroit — Reggie Bush wanted to make a statement, so he did.

And no matter what you or I think about what he had to say, that's really the point here.

He spoke up, and when someone with his profile does that, as Bush acknowledged after Sunday's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Ford Field, "It speaks volumes."

That's the idea, and it's hardly a novel one. But it's easier said than done, and more often than not with this generation of pro athletes, it's neither.

Which is why Bush's pregame statement created a stir, and why he stood in front of his locker after the game explaining it, rather than his underwhelming return from injury (12 touches, 34 total yards) or his team's vibrant playoff hopes.

Bush sported a handwritten message on his long-sleeved warm-up shirt Sunday morning, He had "I CAN'T BREATHE" written on the front, an obvious reference to the recent controversy surrounding the death of Eric Garner in police custody in New York after an officer placed him in what appeared to be a chokehold during an arrest.

In a video recording, Garner can be heard saying "I can't breathe" several times, and the death was ruled a homicide. But a Staten Island grand jury decided last week the officer wouldn't be indicted, sparking protests around the country. And in the wake of other racially-charged events involving law enforcement in Ferguson, Mo., and Cleveland, the raging debate seems inescapable to many.

"It just a terrible situation," Bush said. "It's just unfortunate that this is still happening, and this is still going on. And it affects everybody. … We're all in this together."

Just to be clear, though, he was in this by himself Sunday, the only player on the field making this silent protest, and one of just a handful around the NFL this week.

Bush did ask an equipment manager to help him write the message on his shirt in the locker room before warm-ups. ("I've got bad penmanship," he explained with a laugh.) But Bush, who'd weighed in on this subject previously via social media, said he'd been thinking about it for days. And he neither sought approval nor offered any warnings about what he was planning.

Not that the man in charge would've stopped him, mind you.

"You're probably asking the wrong guy that question," said Caldwell, the Lions' first African-American head coach, when asked if he supported Bush's actions. "I grew up in the '60s where everybody was socially conscious. I believe in it. I'd be a hypocrite if I stood up here and told you any differently.

"Because more than likely, some of those protests that Dr. (Martin Luther) King and some of the others took part in — nonviolent protests — is the reason why I'm standing here in front of you today. So, absolutely, no question about it, I don't mind it."

NBA actions

I don't either, though some fans surely did, or will. And that was where the conversation with Bush inevitably turned after the game.

Bush doesn't profess to be an expert these recent cases, and the Anti-Defamation League ripped him a couple weeks ago for an Instagram post that the group said equated the Ferguson case with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But like many folks, Bush says he has been transfixed by the media coverage of these cases in recent weeks, and he's only left with more questions. He spoke about Ferguson again on Sunday, calling the riots in the aftermath of that grand-jury decision "stupid" and "terrible," among other things. He talked about his initial reaction to seeing the Garner video, too.

"I just felt sad," he said. "Embarrassed. Disgusted. Hurt for his family that he died that way."

Bush, whose mother is a sheriff's deputy who has worked in law enforcement for nearly 20 years, also said he's not sure what the answer is when it comes to the debate about excessive force.

"It definitely doesn't just stop with putting individual cameras on police officers," he said "Because if that was the answer then … I mean, this was on a camera."

But it starts, he thinks, with raising awareness and stirring dialogue, which is something people in his line of work have generally seemed reluctant to do.

Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose made headlines Saturday night when he wore a pre-made "I Can't Breathe" T-shirt during warm-ups before a game against Golden State. Afterward, his teammates voiced support for his statement, and others around the NBA — including LeBron James, who has been outspoken on a variety of social issues in recent years — indicated they might follow his lead. Hall of Famer Magic Johnson also applauded Rose, telling ESPN that pro athletes "have to get involved socially."

"I hope that they would do more," Johnson added.

Anti-social messaging

So why don't they?

"Because we're afraid to face criticism," Bush told me. "We're afraid that people are gonna send negative tweets and write negative comments on our Instagram posts. It's going to create this negativity."

A quick glance at Bush's Twitter mentions late Sunday offered plenty of proof, not surprisingly. And this isn't the first time he has taken heat for something he did or said away from the football field this season. His comments in response to the Adrian Peterson child-abuse case, whether they were taken out of context or not, created quite a stir.

"I've always been that guy to really just sit back and be reserved, to not get involved in situations like this," Bush said. "But I really just felt like, I do have a voice. And it's OK for me to say what I feel, as long as I know it's genuine in my heart. If I'm not doing it to intentionally hurt anybody or bring anybody else down, then that's OK. It's OK to have a voice.

"And that's how a lot of athletes feel. We feel scared to say anything, because we're gonna face a lot of criticism from people."

He will, no doubt. But asked if he had any misgivings Sunday, Bush had one more thing to say. And it was important, I think, no matter what you think of his views.

"I don't regret it at all," he said.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/JohnNiyo

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