WR Chris Conley has been extreme active in the fight against racism but admits it’s going to take bigger voices in the NFL to make progress.
With many members of the professional sports realm protesting in wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old African American, by Kenosha Police officer Rusten Sheskey, Thursday wasn’t a normal day at the Jacksonville Jaguars’ facility. Still, after a delay of a few hours and a close 37-36 vote between the roster, the team practiced.
After taking the field, one of the team’s most vocal players and leaders, Chris Conley, spoke with the media about what was a mentally difficult day.
“Man what a day,” said Conley to open his virtual presser. “Today, the building and the locker room was somewhat of a microcosm of what’s been going on in this country for weeks and months. But the outcome could be taken in multiple ways. You could take it in a way to say, ‘Oh they weren’t united, they were split.’”
With the team talking things out before taking the field, saying the team wasn’t united definitely wouldn’t be fair, though some thought Thursday should continue without practicing. Still, one thing they all agreed upon was to keep tackling America’s issues with racism, inequality, systematic injustice, and police brutality. That much was made clear after the team marched for the Black Lives Matter movement in May and in the statements/presser by Doug Marrone.
During his time with the media, Conley was also asked about whether he believed the NFL would take a similar approach like the NBA and boycott games at some point. His reply was a blunt and genuine one, stating that the NFL is too massive for such an approach as owners are always looking for a replacement. For that reason, he believes the most powerful players in the league — the franchise quarterbacks — are the ones who would have to sacrifice time on the field to really make progress on America’s issues.
“The difference between the NFL and other major league sports machines throughout the country is that they’re looking for your replacement here at all times and they will replace you and the show will go on without you. And until the people in the NFL who are irreplaceable decide that they’re going to step back and they’re going to hang it up for a week, two weeks, whatever it may be, I don’t foresee that happening,” Conley said.
“I think you have great leaders in this league, you have guys who have a voice and who want to be heard and who are willing to make that sacrifice. I believe I’m one of them. But until those figures who are the face of the league decide that and people rally behind them, I don’t think you see that, I don’t think you see that from us.”
Afterward, Conley also added that he completely understands that such a sacrifice from the marquee quarterbacks in the league like Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson is a lot to ask for. With the NBA being a smaller group, however, players like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony can band their league together and have a great degree of star power to go with it. Additionally, there are other factors that play into it like the fact that activism is embedded in the NBA’s history and it probably helps that the sport has a higher representation of those who identify themselves as black (74%) or a person of color (83%).
“A hell of a lot of courage,” Conley replied when ask what it would take for notable quarterbacks to step up. “The problem with the league is the NFL is a very large league. You have a lot of guys on a lot of different teams, a lot of different backgrounds, not everyone knows everyone, even people who are of that significant status—not all of them know each other.”
“It’s a little bit different in the NBA. A lot of those guys do know each other and if they don’t know each other directly, they know someone who knows someone that they’ve played with. These conversations would be good conversations to be had by a lot of those guys. But at the same time, you want people who will be most affected by these decisions and the conversation, too.”
Regardless of how difficult it may be, however, it’s clear the Jags and other NFL teams have plans to remain active in the battle of racism. Players like Conley and Leonard Fournette have have success garnering the attention of city officials and conducting protests as we saw after George Floyd’s murdering. That won’t be changing any time soon and when/if the league’s marquee quarterbacks figure out a way to impact the fight on a larger scale, it will only add to what players like Conley and Fournette have already done.