Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Finally, Someone in the NFL Speaks Out

Mike FreemanNFL National Lead WriterJuly 13, 2016

Washington Redskins defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois (99) walks across the field before an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Landover, Md., Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)
Mark Tenally/Associated Press

Ricky Jean-Francois is speaking out, and all NFL players should do the same. 

           

1. Ricky Jean-Francois Has Something to Say, and We Should Listen

First, let's get this out of the way. Some of you will hate what Washington defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois has to say. Some of you will hate that he's saying something at all. But take a deep breath, and take in the whole view. What he says is smart, relevant and needed.

He's part of a change among some professional athletes when it comes to expressing opinions about societal issues. Players expressing opinions about topics outside of sports is far from unprecedented. But the rash of police shootings of black men, and the shooting of the Dallas police officers, has led to more athletes talking about race and police than at any point maybe in the past decade.

In the not-so-distant past, fear of losing corporate sponsorship or fan loyalty kept many quiet. Not now, and a few have taken to various social media platforms to offer their views. Carmelo Anthony released a beautiful statement on Instagram. WNBA teams are speaking out. Other athletes are as well.

One even went too far, as Cleveland running back Isaiah Crowell posted a drawing of a police officer with his throat slashed. (Crowell later deleted and apologized for the post, though an NFL source with knowledge of the situation said the Browns are considering some type of punishment for Crowell. That punishment, the source said, could be a fine.)

This is where Jean-Francois enters the picture. He's another from the sports world who wants his voice heard. If you are a stick-to-sports dullard, my condolences. If you want to digest some brilliant words from an athlete who cares about what he is seeing in his own country, please read on. His interview is one of the best I've ever been a part of.

Over the past few days, I've spoken to about a dozen NFL players of different ethnicities. All have strong feelings about what's happened. I mean, strong opinions. Some black and white players have told me how angry they are at police. Some black and white players have said how angry they are at protesters.

It's been a fairly even mix. One constant is that none of them wanted to go on the record.

(In fact, one player told me his position coach remarked to his group of players that if the media called any of them for comment on any of the shootings, they were to decline and forward the reporter to the public relations department.)

But one player does not want to hide behind his thoughts.

Jean-Francois went to LSU and has been watching the events in Louisiana closely and also everywhere else, including in Minnesota and Dallas. He's been glued to the news, watching every development. "There's no line to tread for me," he told B/R. "You have to be yourself at the end of the day. You have to say what you feel. [Muhammad] Ali said what he felt, and all athletes should do the same.

"I know some athletes are worried about losing their jobs or having fans come after them for speaking out. Things are so bad right now, we should all be speaking out. Every professional athlete should be talking about this. How will things change if we don't speak out?"

He was just getting started.

"I hear about Black Lives Matter, and I understand why that is," he said. "But I don't care about the 'black lives' part. I care that every life matters. We are having our sons and daughters die. We are having police officers die. You put a bullet in someone's head, you are taking them away from friends and family. That's all that should matter.

"One of the things that needs to be done is that more people have to look at things from the other person's perspective. How would you feel if that was your brother or sister shot to death? And put yourself in the position of the police. You shoot the police or hate the police—they are the same people who will run into a burning house to save you, or expose themselves to danger to save you."

We can debate Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter versus Blue Lives Matter on another day. But Jean-Francois' words are nonetheless smart and measured. There are more.

"Racism is just stupid," he said. "What makes me different from you? My skin color? That's it? I walk like you, bleed like you. We are the same."

He added: "The rest of the world is laughing at us. They see all this violence and all these killings, and they are laughing at us.

"The shootings and the killings have to stop."

Jean-Francois said it will be interesting when Washington reconvenes for training camp.

"We're like every team in the league," he said. "We have people from all over the country—different regions of the country and different races. Everyone will have different opinions about all of this. There are going to be a lot of discussions."

When asked what he would tell fans who will say they only want him talking about football, Jean-Francois responded: "Before I became a professional athlete, I was just like you. I can express any opinion I want. I can express an opinion on things that affect my life. I live in the same society you do. The trees bloom and the water is wet in my world, same as yours.

"As athletes, we are your neighbors, your friends. We're not just athletes. We're part of America. We can express any thoughts we want."

"The main thing is," Jean-Francois said, "I hope things get better, and we can all come together as people."

Hopefully, Jean-Francois and other athletes never stop talking.

           

2. Is the Hype Real This Time in Washington?

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 29: Wide receiver DeSean Jackson #11 of the Washington Redskins scores a second quarter touchdown against the New York Giants at FedExField on November 29, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

On the football field, Jean-Francois believes Washington is one of the deepest teams in football, and I can't disagree. That's why Washington has a chance to shock the world. A chance, mind you.

This group in Washington is markedly better than the playoff team last year. Without getting into details of all the changes, the receiving corps is stacked, the defense is better and it has a quarterback on the rise.

The front office also added depth at many key positions.

"I tip my hat to the front office," Jean-Francois said. "They did a lot of great things, including getting the best corner in football. We have so much depth now that every day at camp will feel like a game...and the battles will be intense."

        

3. Washington Doing the Right Thing with Kirk Cousins

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 03: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins looks for an open receiver against the Dallas Cowboys during the first quarter at AT&T Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

I've been told, like many people, that it remains unlikely (though not impossible) that Kirk Cousins will sign a long-term deal with Washington. That would be smart—really smart—for the team.

Washington has the rights to Cousins for a year. By waiting, the team can see if his performance last season was the beginning of more excellence to come (which I think is the case) or a fluke. For now, the team is being patient, which, for many years, was something the organization never did—because patience is for suckers.

One person familiar with the negotiations said there was a 3-5 percent chance a long-term deal would get done. I guess that's better than zero.

           

4. Marshawn Lynch Is a Savage

I'm not sure how I'd feel if I was a young player and Marshawn Lynch did this to me. I would probably be honored. I'd get to tell all my friends that a potential future Hall of Famer buried me. I'd have stories for a decade from now.

But there is still a bit of shock that Lynch did that. He's a grown-ass man, and he pancaked a kid. Hopefully, he bought the player some lunch afterward.

           

5. And the No. 1 Pick in Fantasy Football Should Be...

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 6: Todd Gurley #30 of the St. Louis Rams carries the ball in the third quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at the Edward Jones Dome on December 6, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

Todd Gurley told the NFL Network that he should be the first pick in everyone's fantasy draft. He's right. To a point.

Gurley is an outstanding talent. His problem is he plays for a head coach who has shown little prowess when it comes to offensive creativity. Ever. The Rams also still have an uncertain quarterback situation considering Jared Goff has yet to take a snap on Sunday.

A good offensive staff would find ways to take that pressure off Gurley, but I'm not sure if the Rams have that.

As things stand, Gurley figures to see what it means to be the focus of a defense. That could make for a brutal 18 weeks.

So, yes, Gurley is a great potential No. 1 fantasy pick. Maybe.

           

6. Better Yet, Don't Overthink the Top of the Draft

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 09:  Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball in the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium on January 9, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

There are few safer bets than Antonio Brown in fantasy.

The Steelers are going to have the best offense in the AFC (the Packers will in the NFC). The return of Le'Veon Bell will force teams to put more men in the box and ease coverages on Brown. Oh, he'll see his share of double-teams, of course (and a few triple-teams), but Bell is so good, it will be impossible for defenses to clamp down on both.

We've seen this problem the Steelers have presented before, and we'll see it again. Brown will put up huge numbers—and be a better No. 1 pick than Gurley.

           

7. And Now, Time for a Scary Story

2 Dec 1990: Running back Thurman Thomas of the Buffalo Bills runs with the ball during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. The Bills won the game, 30-23.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Former Bills running back Thurman Thomas, now in the Hall of Fame, told a story to Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News that was fairly chilling.

It was 1990, and he was in a game against the Broncos. He was hit hard, and Thomas said everything went blank for about 15 seconds.

He recalled the NFL protocol at the time boiled down to this: "A couple of aspirins and get your [butt] back in there."

The story is worth a read if you want to see what football was like in those days. In some ways, it's not so different from now.

           

8. Some Jaguars Didn't Quite Get the Message

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gus Bradley of the Jacksonville Jaguars watches the action during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at EverBank Field on December 13, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Gus Bradley gave his team a warning: Don't be idiots.

Well, he didn't use those exact words, but that was his basic message to the team—have "a really good plan so when we do come back [after minicamp], we're rolling," Bradley said, according to the Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran. So far, most players have listened. A few didn't.

Linebacker Dan Skuta was arrested. Denard Robinson drove his car into a pond. (A pool or a pond...the pond was good for Robinson.)

           

9. Little Sympathy for Manziel

There was a time, I know, when many players felt sorry for Johnny Manziel. They felt he was an alcoholic who deserved compassion. There is still some sympathy for him, players tell me, but less so. Particularly when he posts pictures on Instagram mocking the fact that his jerseys are selling at a steep discount.

What people who know him are telling me is they wish he'd stay off social media. And out of clubs. And bars. Just focus on getting better. But none of that, for the moment, seems to be happening. That's why the few supporters Manziel has are starting to drift away.

           

10. Megatron's Departure Has NFL Wistful

DETROIT MI - NOVEMBER 26: wide receiver Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions celebrates a second quarter touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles on November 26, 2015 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.
(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

I can't quite explain why, but Calvin Johnson's retirement has seemed to catch the attention of players more than most retirements have. In casual conversations with several players since his announcement, they were moved by Johnson's words and everything he did to stay in the game. The reason why might be simple. In Johnson, they see themselves.

            

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.