During her first day on the job as the Detroit Lions principal owner, Sheila Ford Hamp made it clear the organization will continue to embrace social justice initiatives, respect players' rights to peacefully protest — including kneeling during the national anthem — while leaving the door open for the franchise to sign quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
In her opening statement of a conference call with local media on Tuesday, Ford Hamp highlighted the unique and difficult offseason, which has been marred by both the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest relating to racial injustice, and praised the roster's response, while offering continued support.
"I am extremely proud, however, of how our team has been navigating this difficult offseason," Ford Hamp said. "As an organization, we support our players and coaches' efforts to bring social justice issues to forefront. We will continue to support them and continue to work toward positive change. These are conversations I know Coach (Matt) Patricia has had with our team over the last several weeks and I look forward to engaging, learning, and most importantly, listening, as we strive forward as a team."
During the tenure of Martha Firestone Ford's ownership, working in conjunction with the players, the team launched Detroit Lions Inspire Change in 2019. The social justice initiative directed $600,000 in funds toward several local organizations, funding scholarships, social-education programs and medical/health assistance.
The initiative was born out of mass protests around the NFL in 2017, after president Donald Trump vulgarly criticized players who kneel during the national anthem. The president has continued using the anthem protests as a talking point, ramping up his remarks after commissioner Roger Goodell offered a recent mea culpa regarding the league's insensitivity to racial issues.
"We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people," he said. "We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all players to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe that black lives matter.
"Without black players, there would be no National Football League, and the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff. We are listening. I am listening. And I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve and go forward for a better and more united NFL family."
Ford Hamp echoed Goodell's sentiments, saying the organization will support the rights of players who wish to kneel during the upcoming season.
"First of all, I think the understanding is completely different now," she said. "I think most people really understand what the kneeling was really all about. I know the commissioner, and I completely agree, we support our players' right to peaceful protests. We support the first amendment. I think this is really, finally, finally, thank goodness, gotten national attention that this is a serious problem. We, as an organization, plan to listen to our players and support them any way we can. "
As for Kaepernick, who was the first player to kneel during the anthem in 2016 and hasn't been able to find an NFL job the past three seasons, Ford Hamp would welcome his addition to the roster if the team's front office and coaching staff were on board.
"Well, if our coaches and general manager all thought it would be a good idea to bring him in, I would completely support that," Ford Hamp said.
Such a move does seem unlikely, at least based on Detroit's previous offseason moves. Most notably, the team signed Chase Daniel to a three-year, $13 million contract, including $5 million guaranteed, to serve as Matthew Stafford's backup.
Kaepernick, a dual-threat quarterback selected in the second round of the 2011 draft by the San Francisco 49ers, led the team to the Super Bowl in his first season as a starter. In six seasons with the 49ers, he posted a 28-30 record, throwing for 12,271 yards, 72 touchdowns and 30 interceptions while rushing for another 2,300 yards and 13 touchdowns.