Are the Lions for real? Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Justin Rogers look at the Lions as they roll into Week 5 against the Carolina Panthers at Ford Field. Detroit News
Allen Park — At first, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Akeem Spence thought it was a joke, but a forwarded text message sent by a Florida contractor confirmed his father had been denied work based solely on Spence’s decision to kneel during the national anthem during a game last month.
The news stunned Spence. Sure, he may have anticipated some backlash for his decision, but he couldn’t have imagined it directly impacting his family.
“It just felt bad, man,” Spence said.
Spence was back on his feet for the anthem this past week, linking arms with his teammates while saying a prayer. He said he prayed for himself, his teammates, his loved ones and his teammates’ loved ones.
The decision to stand wasn’t an easy one. He still has convictions about his intent, but he doesn’t want to cause additional problems for his family and doesn’t want to be a distraction to his team.
“It made me want to act more, but at the same time, seeing how it affected my family, it’s kind of strange,” Spence said. “I have little brothers. I didn’t want it to start affecting them. They don’t know much and I try to teach them the right things, as an older brother, and just instill good in them. That’s what my father did with me, and that’s all I’m trying to do is do the right thing.”
Spence’s younger brothers are 10 and four.
As for being a good teammate, the Lions don’t have a policy against kneeling. Management has said they will support individual players’ right to demonstrate without repercussions, but at team meeting last week, most players agreed standing and linking arms was the best approach.
“Guys locked arms and I’m a team-guy first,” Spence said. “We spoke about it as a team and that’s what we wanted to do. As badly as I wanted to take a knee, I respect the guys in this locker room, I respect this team and that’s what we wanted to do. I just went out, held hands, and prayed during the anthem and kept my beliefs strong. I still believe right is right and wrong is wrong.”
Two Lions players — linebackers Steve Longa and Jalen Reeves-Maybin continued to take a knee during the anthem this week.
Spence’s father losing a construction job wasn’t the only repercussion from the player’s protest. Spence also noted he and his father got a number of harassing voice mails from random people.
“It was just some harsh words,” Spence said. “It’s just people being bitter. I didn’t take anything from that. I pray for those people because right now, we need that in this country. We need prayer, we need everybody to come together, we need the unity. That’s all I want and all I want for everybody else.”