JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Sadness. Frustration. Confusion.
Jaguars coach Doug Marrone had a somber tone on Thursday afternoon as he tried to make sense of another highly visible moment in the battle against racism and calls for social justice reform.
“I think you know that, for me, there’s a higher level of frustration … this time around, a higher level of … here we are again, you know what I’m saying,” Marrone said. “Like, ‘why are we here?’ Again, knowing that, you know, whatever we’ve done between then and now … What are we doing, why haven’t we gotten anywhere?”
Marrone addressed the first wave of that in June. On Thursday, he was clearly subdued at having to hold the same discussions with his players. Marrone said that he hurts for his players, the bulk of whom are Black and have told him stories of their encounters with racial injustice.
The Jaguars, in the wake of the deaths of two Black men and a Black woman in separate incidents involving current or former law enforcement officers, marched from TIAA Bank Field to the steps of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to collectively say, enough.
Then came the latest incident, this one occurring last Sunday in Kenosha, Wisc.
Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a police officer. That incident was captured on video. It has led to violent protests in that region. On Wednesday, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to enter the court for their Game 5 NBA playoff game against the Orlando Magic. A handful of NFL teams around the league opted against practicing on Thursday.
News4Jax sports analyst Mark Brunell, a former quarterback with the Jaguars, said that fans may not like athletes using their platforms to spark change. That’s understandable. But players have a voice and they are using that in the best way that they know how to.
“Listen, professional athletes have an incredible platform, and we’re seeing teams choose not to play games, choose not to practice. And I absolutely respect that,” he said. “Huge platform, a big voice. And while there are some fans that would potentially disagree with missing games or missing a practice, that’s OK. That’s OK if they disagree, but what is happening is that conversations are being had.”
The Jaguars held a two-hour meeting during their scheduled practice time and voted, 37-36, to take the field.
“As a white guy or white man in this country I can’t even imagine, you know, what it’s like,” Marrone said. “I’ll never say I know what it’s like. But I do know this; the fire and intensity to make a difference, grows.”
The incident involving Blake followed in the wake of a slew of deaths over the last few months that have led the country to a reckoning on racial and social issues.
Breonna Taylor was killed by police in Louisville, Ken. during a botched no-knock warrant event last March. Taylor, an emergency medical technician, was killed in her own home.
Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in a Brunswick, Ga. neighborhood, confronted and killed by Travis McMichael. His father, Gregory, was a longtime law enforcement officer and is also charged in Arbery’s murder.
The breaking point came in late May when George Floyd died in police custody. Floyd was subdued by Minneapolis police and had an officer’s knee placed on his neck for nearly nine minutes. It was Floyd’s death that encapsulated the previous two and led to the most significant calls for change by athletes in the current generation.
Jaguars receiver DJ Chark said that Marrone provided a morning forum for players to express how they felt and decide if they wanted to go on with practice, or show solidarity with other teams that opted to sit out. Chark said that the discussions from the summer about ways to improve race relations and call for change on social justice issues have continued internally since then.
As a player, Chark said that he’d like to see all law enforcement officers be required to wear body cameras to be held accountable in a court of law.
“It personally affects me because I’ve been seeing this since I was a kid,” Chark said, recalling an incident he saw growing up in Louisiana.
“I forgot how old I was. [The man] got tased while he was in handcuffs. Tased multiple times. Died. It made CNN. We had celebrities come march. And they pushed the dates back for the trial. Eventually the guy got off and we never heard of it again.”