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Sports, social issues are no longer completely separate things

Players aiming to use their platform to advocate for change

New York Giants Training Camp
Saquon Barkley
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

In an ideal world, sports would be an escape from the fight for social justice and the other issues that impact our society and our world. That, however, is not the reality of our current circumstance.

Professional athletes, a large percentage of whom are black and many who have likely been personally touched by racism or some type of profiling or intimidation from police, are trying to use their voices to bring about change.

Like it or not, whether it is comfortable or not, whether it messes with our ability to simply watch and enjoy sporting events or not, in my view athletes using their platform is a good thing.

In recent days we have seen NBA teams — led by the Milwaukee Bucks — refuse to take the court. We have seen several NFL teams cancel practices or scrimmages. We have seen players in baseball decide to sit out of games. All to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisc.

The New York Giants have not been among the teams to cancel anything — yet. They chose on both Wednesday and Thursday to go ahead with their practices, partially so that young players competing for roster spots didn’t get shortened opportunities. The possibility remains, though, that after players and coaches discuss Thursday afternoon how they want to respond to the situation that some visible action, such as cancelling Friday’s scrimmage, could be taken.

Saquon Barkley said players “were all in the right mind space” to continue practicing.

“We’re gonna come up with something,” Barkley said in terms of how the team would show its feelings.

Players are well aware of what is happening in society and seemingly more willing than ever before to step into the social or political arena and use their platform to fight for change.

“It’s really said to see another senseless shooting,” said Sterling Shepard. “I kind of use football as an escape. It’s been real hard to use it as an escape when you see what’s going on around the world.”

Barkley said that “words really can’t describe” his feelings, and that the situation “makes me sick, especially being a black man.”

Barkley spoke about an incident where he said his father was “mishandled” by police when Barkley was a player at Penn State.

Barkley said his father, who has a heart condition, had been tased.

“I remember how I felt in that moment,” said Barkley of finding out about the incident, in which his father was eventually found innocent of wrongdoing. “It hurt me.”

Sadly, it’s a deeply personal issue for every black man in this country.

“What if I was in that situation? What if it was your brother? What if it was your cousin? What if it was Shep (Sterling Shepard), what if it was Golden (Tate)? All those guys,” Barkley asked.

“I understand that God put me in a position to be able to have a platform, to be able to use my voice.”

Barkley pointed to Bill Russell and Colin Kaepernick as pioneers in creating conversation aimed at bringing about change.

“You have to spark those conversations and then take action,” Barkley said. “That’s what we’re trying to do with our team.

“It’s a situation going on in this world that needs to be fixed. It’s not going to be solved in one day. We’re trying to find ways how we can impact our community.”

Barkley took part in a video with several other NFL players after the killing by police of George Floyd.

“We can use our platform and just continue to try to raise awareness and continue to try to have a great impact on our community,” Barkley said.

Shepard also spoke about the opportunity professional athletes have.

“It’s such a huge platform, man,” Shepard said. “We can make a huge impact as players, and as a league using that platform.”

Coach Joe Judge had spoken on Thursday about how Giants players have been divided into nine groups, each working with different New York and New Jersey organization to try and affect some type of change.

“One thing we decided as a team is we’re not really a bunch of talkers. That’s not really our personality,” coach Joe Judge said. “There’s a lot of people making statements out there, putting blanket things out there. We talked early in the process that it’s OK to say something, but you have to back it up.”

Giants players are trying to do just that, even if perhaps not as visibly as some teams and players across the sports landscape.

Edit: We had hoped that there could be a constructive discussion in the comments section. Instead it devolved into insults and vitriolic bickering. The comments section has been closed and all existing comments have been hidden.