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 — It was a request, not a decree.
In a team meeting last week, Lions ownership asked players to stand for the national anthem but also committed resources to fund the players’ to-be-determined causes that are likely to focus on the original heart of the demonstrations: societal inequalities.
It’s easy to look at the Ford family’s promise of financial backing and see it as some sort of hush money, to remove the distraction of kneeling players on the sideline, but safety Glover Quin strongly disagrees.
“I think people have to make decisions about what really matters,” Quin said. “Does kneeling make the biggest difference or does doing something about it make the biggest difference? We can all kneel until we’re blue in the face, but at some point, action has to be behind it. We’ve kneeled, we’ve got their attention, we’ve got what we need having owners beyond you, now you have to make a difference.”
To be clear, Quin hasn’t kneeled. In the past, he said doing so would be a personally inauthentic gesture, but former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decision to take a knee last year got Quin thinking more about the world he was raising his three sons in and inspired him to take action to improve it.
Quin has been to Washington D.C. twice the past year with a small contingent of current and former NFL players, led by former Lions receiver Anquan Boldin, to meet with legislators about improving police-community relations.
This week, we surveyed a number of players in the Lions locker room and each echoed Quin’s appreciation of ownership’s support.
“It’s big,” rookie linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin said. “(Martha Ford) could have just turned a blind eye to it. She could have made any decision. For her to come out and supports us, that’s a big step in the right direction.”
Reeves-Maybin’s voice matters because he’s one of two Lions players — along with Steve Longa — who continued to take a knee during the anthem last week, after the team meeting.
After kneeling for the first time the week before, taking part in the league-wide series of demonstrations, Reeves-Maybin wanted to make it clear he wasn’t doing so strictly as a reaction to Donald Trump’s controversial comments, when the president said protesting players deserved to be fired.
“I felt like the right thing for me to do is to kneel,” Reeves-Maybin said. “I don’t really like the state of some social inequalities and injustices that are going on here. I didn’t want it to be about what president Trump said, and felt like at the time, the week when you saw all the demonstrations, it made it more so about that. That’s not the idea of where it should have been.”
His decision has brought predictable blowback. The young linebacker said he’s been bombarded with hateful messages on social media, plenty of them racially charged. And while he hasn’t received any death threats, some have gone as far as to wish he will suffer from CTE — a degenerative brain disease found in many football players after death — and the inability to play with his children after he retires.
“I don’t really care,” Reeves-Maybin said. “Most of the time, I just laugh at it. I’m sure the people writing it have way more anger, put way more energy into something they claim they don’t want to put energy into.
“I think when you get those kinds of things, it makes you really realize how far away you are from what it really should be like.”
Defensive tackle Akeem Spence, who knelt two weeks ago, but stood and linked arms with his teammates last Sunday, also had to deal with angry responses, including voicemails from people who got ahold of his cell phone number. It was also reported last week that Spence’s father, was denied a construction job in Florida because of his son’s demonstration.
Spence decided to stand back up, one, because he didn’t want to negatively impact his family, and two, because he didn’t want to be a distraction to the team. But he still believes it’s important to tackle social inequality head-on, and he too is thrilled to have Ford’s support.
“Our ownership, they’ve done a great job,” Spence said. “Our owners, they’re willing to get behind us. Mrs. Ford, she was out there locking arms with us. They’re behind us the whole way. Her, president (Rod) Wood, they’re behind us.”
What’s next? That remains to be seen. The players are continuing to discuss where they want to direct their energy and efforts. The important thing, says Quin, is finding something that will have a long-lasting impact.
“Just talking about it, dialogue, coming up with something that’s not going to go away in a week,” Quin said. “We’re looking for something that’s sustainable, something that’s really going to make change.”