JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jaguars players, front office staff, their family and friends joined their voices with others across the nation Friday when they marched in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
A crowd of about 300 demonstrators met up in front of TIAA Bank Field, most wearing black-and-white Black Lives Matter T-shirts.
They walked from the stadium to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office headquarters downtown in a show of solidarity with those in the community who battle system racism every day.
The march was part of a now worldwide movement for criminal justice reform in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers and the delayed arrests of three men accused of killing black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Southeast Georgia.
Former Jaguar Ernest Wilford, who is now an officer with JSO, said having to explain these stories — and the underlying issues behind them — to his teenage son is a struggle.
“I played seven years in the league. I’ve been a police officer for six years. But for 41 years I’ve been a black man, so it’s very important that I use my platform to let everyone know that black lives do matter,” Wilford said. “The murder of George Floyd is unbearable. It hurts, and I want to make sure that I show my solidarity and let everyone know that I hear the voices, and I want change.”
Wide receiver DJ Chark pointed out that the recent incidents are a continuation of ongoing issues, and he was proud to see so many step up to support his community on Friday.
Kicker Josh Lambo, who is white, admitted that he will likely never fully understand what it’s like to deal personally with these issues every day, but that he was there Friday to support his teammates – whatever their race — and to learn.
“What I do know is that there are people who came before us doing things of this nature that allowed a peaceful protest like this to occur,” Lambo said. “When change needs to happen, there is a system for us to force that change. And this is the start of it.”
Receiver Chris Conley gave a powerful speech on the steps of the sheriff’s office, saying when he first saw the video of Arbery being shot and killed in a Brunswick neighborhood, he sat in his office at home and cried.
The movement since Arbery’s death and that of George Floyd in Minneapolis, has pushed the cause forward.
“Protests like this one, and peaceful protests across the country are fighting for our Constitution. They’re fighting for our democracy. So, I plead that everyone out there would get out and they would demonstrate, they would do it peacefully,” Conley said. “And to those people who are trying to detract from this movement, who are trying to add on and instill hate and riots, we won’t let you hijack this moment. We won’t let you do it."
Conley encouraged people to study the past and not to just believe what they’ve been told.
“We cannot allow comfortability of revisionist history to disarm our minds and weaken our convictions,” he said.
“A Confederate monument sits a couple blocks from here, praising the south’s dark past. Our revisionist history will tell us that it’s there to honor men fighting for state’s rights. But true history would tell us that in the cornerstone address, Alexander Stephens said that our states are built on the fact that the negro is inferior and slavery and subordination is this normal, natural state. That’s true history.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday also posted a video on social media condemning racism and the systematic oppression of black people.
We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter. #InspireChange pic.twitter.com/ENWQP8A0sv— NFL (@NFL) June 5, 2020