Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford discussed the importance of continuing to acknowledge the issues of racial injustice, police brutality, white privilege and racism in the United States in an article for The Players' Tribune on Friday.
In the article, Stafford wrote: "Yes, this NFL season just kicked off, and nobody is more excited about that than me. But we can't just move on from the issue of racial injustice and use sports as a distraction. We can't just stick to football. Not as a team. Not as an organization. And we shouldn't as a country."
The start of the 2020 NFL season last week signaled a return to normalcy for some despite the United States and the world continuing to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the issues of systemic racism and police brutality against Black people.
Discussion regarding social injustice and racial inequality was not put on hold in Week 1, though, as there was plenty of emphasis on what individual players and entire teams decided to do during the playing of the national anthem.
Some teams stayed in the locker room, others locked arms and some stood while supporting their teammates who chose to kneel.
Players were also given permission to put the names of people impacted by social injustice or racism on the backs of their helmets, and the NFL prominently featured social justice phrases at stadiums across the league.
While positive steps have been taken thus far, Stafford wrote about the importance of keeping the discussion at the forefront: "Police brutality, white privilege, racism—it's all real. It's time we stop pretending, or defending, or just closing our eyes to what's right in front of us. We have to listen, and we have to keep having these hard conversations."
The Lions were the first of many NFL teams to cancel practice following the shooting of Jacob Blake in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Aug. 23. Stafford said the team spent the time having "some extremely difficult conversations," sharing stories and listening to others' experiences with racism.
Stafford also described an experience with his teammates during the offseason in which he clearly saw how differently he was treated because he is white. He and Danny Amendola were able to practice on a field in Atlanta without incident, however, when Stafford and four black teammates attempted to practice on the same field, they were told they were trespassing and were told the police would be called if they didn't leave.
Stafford concluded his open letter by writing:
"All I can ask you to do, as we continue through this NFL season, is to close your eyes and really put yourself in other people's shoes. Try for a minute to put all the social media and the politics and the arguing aside, and look within yourself. Ask yourself hard questions. But more than anything, listen. It's time."
Stafford and the Lions lost a heartbreaker to the Chicago Bears in Week 1, as Chicago came from behind to win in the fourth quarter, and while that is important from a football perspective, Stafford's article stressed the fact that there are other more pressing issues at hand.
Bouncing back against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday will be paramount if the Lions want to have a successful season, but Stafford made it clear that football won't be his sole focus, which is likely something that can be said for many NFL players this season.