Allen Park — Like many typical jobs, NFL players have plenty of work-related topics to discuss during their work day.
As the Lions prepared Wednesday for their second preseason game against the New York Jets, the topic of President Donald Trump’s controversial comments Tuesday about last weekend’s protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, was almost unavoidable.
“It’s definitely tough. What’s most disheartening is people try to make excuses for certain behaviors, especially people with positions of influence, still making excuses for specifically what happened in Virginia,” running back Ameer Abdullah said. “For me, that’s the most disheartening thing.
“We know what the issue is; it’s been laid out before us. We just need more people on board who won’t make excuses but will make change.”
When asked whether he was referring to Trump, Abdullah answered: “Him and his followers.”
The NFL has become a cauldron for political and social issues, including the fallout in the past year from Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests. LeBron James added his commentary to the fray on Tuesday, opening opportunities for other athletes to voice their opinions.
“Guys speak up and people feel differently about it because you see things in your career and sometimes you feel like you have to make a choice: Do I speak out and say what’s right or do I hide from the truth to save my career?” safety Glover Quin said. “Guys are on different levels. LeBron is definitely a guy who doesn’t have to worry about his career. I don’t think a guy should be blackballed because he speaks about what’s right.
“Right is right and wrong is wrong and it just is what it is — what’s happening right now just isn’t right.”
It’s become a common narrative that athletes and coaches should stick to sports topics and not mix politics and social issues in with sports, which many view as an escape from the heavier themes.
But given their platform, many athletes are using the opportunity to speak out.
“They’re men and have their own opinions. I expressed to them: look at the world, have your own comments,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “They’re not robots and they do have feelings; some have grown up in those communities where they have all kinds of issues — and I don’t think they should have to be quiet.”
Players have their own individual thoughts about whether they’ll share their personal views publicly, given the backlash that sometimes comes with discussion controversial topics.”
It’s a personal choice, but Abdullah said it’s something he’s long felt comfortable doing, leaning on his father’s insistence that if he doesn’t stand for something, he’ll fall for anything.
“It’s definitely a hot-button topic. I don’t really pick and choose specific moments (to speak out); if something hits me and I feel like I need to get it off my chest, I’m not necessarily going to hold my tongue to do so — especially if it’s something that I think is right.
“You get the people who want athletes to stick to sports, which to some degree, I understand — but at the same time, I am a citizen in this country and a taxpayer and I feel like what I have to say is important. People who do follow me and do understand my sentiment will appreciate that.”
Veteran Bademosi weighs in
The discourse is especially impactful for veteran defensive back Johnson Bademosi, whose parents are both first-generation Nigerian immigrants. He grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and has some strong thoughts on national politics.
“It’s upsetting to see how the leaders are responding to certain things. People died in Virginia, and to me, this doesn’t seem like a ‘both sides’ thing,” Bademosi said. “It’s very clear what’s going on. It’s very clear these nationalist groups are upset for reasons, being violent and acting out in a way that’s ridiculous.
“We all owe it to ourselves and this country to do whatever we can do to change that, even if it’s a conversation with somebody.”
Some of those discussions can happen in the locker room with teammates or out on the field, but they stressed the importance is talking through the issues and getting different points of view to gain a better understanding.
“When we talk about politics or religion, things can get heated, but at the end of the day, we have a love and respect for each other because of the same thing at the end of the day, which is winning football games and being good teammates,” Bademosi said. “When you’re in that kind of situation, you can have healthy dialogue.”