Houston — While NFL players, media and fans converged on Houston for a weeklong smorgasbord of excess built around the Super Bowl — from parties to promotions to coverage — a dozen athletes were taking part in a panel at Texas Southern University just outside of downtown, seeking to channel the energy of the festivities to continue the conversation about race relations, not just in football, but society.
Among the participants were three current and one former Detroit Lions players — Anquan Boldin, Glover Quin, Johnson Bademosi and James Ihedigbo — each eager to use their platform to influence positive social change.
In November, Boldin led a group of five players, including Quin, to Washington D.C. where they met with a number of representatives, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin).
The focus, at the time, was to discuss, introduce and promote legislation to improve police-community relations. The Super Bowl panel, hosted by RISE (Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality), was designed to be a continuation of that discussion.
The group of five are planning to return to D.C. this spring and hope to build upon the foundation they started with the previous regime with President Donald Trump's administration.
“I definitely hope so,” Boldin said. “You want to see people reach across the aisle. It’s disheartening to see a person not work with another person because of your party affiliations. When you’re in that position, your heart should be for the people. That’s who you work for. No matter who wrote the bill, or whatever it is, your best interest should be in it for the people.”
In addition to speaking out on these issues, Boldin and Quin are both active in the community. Many of the players on the panel believed this is where change begins.
“We can’t solve the problem today, but we can continue the conversation, get more people involved and keep pushing the needle,” Quin said.
Boldin, named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2015 for his philanthropic efforts, partners with local law enforcement through his foundation in various communities where he’s active. Quin has long worked with the United Way, with a focus on educating local youth in Detroit and Houston.
But race relations have taken on a special meaning for both in recent years. For Boldin, it was the 2015 death of his cousin, Corey Jones, who was shot to death by a police officer while waiting for roadside assistance in Florida. That officer was charged with manslaughter and attempted murder and is awaiting trial.
Quin, who says using his platform to improve society for his three young children is his primary motivation, was inspired to get more involved by Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers quarterback sparked a string of protests around the league last year by kneeling during the national anthem.
Using the anthem as a protest tool wasn’t how Quin wanted to proceed, so he linked up with Boldin to take action.
“I didn’t want to just kneel or raise my fist, do something that wasn’t authentic (for me),” Quin said. “I’m a guy that wants to work. I can take a knee and obviously show symbolism, but for me, let’s go talk to some people, let’s use who we are, let’s use the platform and who I am to talk to people to make some change.
“How can I do something more than just hold my fist up? I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, because that stuff obviously got the ball rolling. It got people talking about it more. Now, you have to decide how we want to get involved.”
The players don’t know what to expect with their next trip to D.C. The agenda and meeting schedule is still being formulated and they don’t know how receptive the new administration will be to the message. They have no choice but to be optimistic, and will look to take advantage of the opportunity any way they can.
“I think they’ll be receptive because they may want to make it seem like they care,” Quin said. “If that’s how you get it, that’s how you get in. If you get in and get commitments, you have to be able to hold them to it and hopefully they are men of their word, women of their word and continue to support (our cause).”