Players practiced and coaches coached at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on Saturday morning for the first time since Wednesday. And this much is clear after comments from Head Coach Adam Gase, offensive lineman Jonotthan Harrison and quarterback Sam Darnold: The social justice issues confronting society are in their playing field.
"We have too powerful a platform to not use it," Harrison said. "We're being extra cautious to not be misconstrued as attacking anything. No, we're just seeking change."
The Jets and eight other NFL teams canceled practice on Thursday in a show of solidarity concern over the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin last weekend. Instead of practicing, players, coaches and team officials (including CEO Christopher Johnson and General Manager Joe Douglas) met for more than four hours.
"Guys that I know have the same values and morals as I do, to hear guys I love on the team, to hear them talk about how they grew up, how much more challenging it was than for me growing up [in Orange County in California], how many more obstacles they had ... it shouldn't be happening in this country," Darnold said. "But we have to continue playing, frankly it's why we have a platform, because we play football and play in the NFL. We have to continue playing and get our message across. If we stop playing that goes away."
Darnold repeatedly returned to the importance of frank discussions among teammates behind closed doors as a chance to gain insight and perhaps more importantly, to foster and enhance the relationship among the Jets' players. That was the universal message that has brought the entire organization closer, but not without the realization that things won't change overnight, and that the opinions and actions of professional athletes can only contribute to the overall goal of enhancing social justice for all.
"With this group, I can't state enough that we've tried to do things together, talking and discussing," Gase said. "When we were in that room [on Thursday] Joe and myself ... they called us in. It was a humbling experience to listen and be educated by our players. This group is very impressive."
While Harrison, as an offensive lineman, and Darnold, as a quarterback, interact frequently, they each acknowledged that Thursday's meeting was an important eye-opener for all in attendance.
"The meeting two days ago was a huge moment," Harrison said. "We were in a safe space. There was a lot of stuff talked about that makes people uncomfortable. No matter background, I know everyone respects everyone's feelings. We know we can grow together as a group. Everyone is on board and fully accepting what everyone had to say. It was a respectful discussion. One of the more productive things we've done as an organization."
Darnold, as one of the team leaders, echoed Harrison's comments.
"I took time to understand it is different growing up Black in America and I understand that better," Darnold said. "Now I'm continuing to educate myself. These are conversations that have to be had."
Darnold added: "It's about effecting change. Registering to vote. I'm very uneducated about voting, I'm spending my days looking at a playbook. For me I want to continue to educate myself and talk to my teammates. The stories I've heard are very eye-opening. I understand that we have a long way to go in this country to be where we want to be."