Football topics, such as the Jets' game-situations practice, made room Wednesday for social justice issues of great importance to the Jets players and organization as many expressed strong thoughts and emotions in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday and the subsequent protests in Kenosha, WI.
"It's definitely tough to see those images," WR Jamison Crowder said, recalling times he was stopped by police during his college days at Duke. "It's a reminder for me of the situations that I've been in. I was in college trying to be a student-athlete, doing the right things. And to be stereotyped, to be targeted just because of the car I was driving, it's definitely hurtful. It always reminds me that if I didn't cooperate or if I didn't let the police officer know I'm in school, I felt like, man, I could easily have been a victim."
"Yesterday was the first time I've seen guys as affected as they were," S Bradley McDougald said. "Some guys shed tears. And it's unfortunate. Guys are getting sick and tired of getting sick and tired. We're sick of talking about it, we're sick of sharing our emotions about it. We're hurting."
The catalyst for the Jets players' Wednesday conversations wasn't only the events in Wisconsin. Jets owner Christopher Johnson has been very vocal about the issues of social justice that have been raised around the NFL over the past months and about leading the Jets organization to commit time, energy and money to social justice causes.
Head coach Adam Gase has also been instrumental in creating an environment that fosters conversation among his players about those issues and how the team can address them in the community. Which led to Gase kicking off Tuesday's team meeting, still virtual due to COVID-19 precautions, not with football matters but with remarks that began with Johnson addressing his team.
"Yes, it was a long conversation," Gase said. "Christopher did a great job of starting it and we had a lot of guys involved in the discussion. It was good to hear the amount of guys speak. And I thought it was good that we ended up having a walkthrough just because it allowed us to get back together. I was less concerned with how many reps we were going to have and I just liked the fact that the group was back together in the building since we're doing everything virtual."
One who has been impressed with Johnson's involvement is Frank Bush, the Jets' assistant head coach/defense and inside linebackers coach.
"I think that impact is huge," Bush said. "I've been in this league for 30-plus years and you just don't get that. I'm sure most owners want to be a part of it but you know how that situation works — they just don't put themselves out there like that.
"And this has been a huge impact for our team. A lot of our guys were stunned when he first gave us his phone number back in the spring. And now, to come out just yesterday and really go after it again, to me it just says it means something to him. He's feeling it, he's right there, he's got empathy for the entire situation."
With Johnson, team president Hymie Elhai, GM Joe Douglas and Gase setting the organizational tone, the Jets are showing they want their concern to be about not just words but actions to combat the issues under discussion.
"As a receiver group, we spoke after the team meeting," Crowder said. "We're kind of in that process right now, just trying to come up with a plan and do something to bridge the gap, or at least change the narrative, of how African-Americans are viewed in the world, in society. ... We're trying to come up with a plan as a receiver group and as a team to bring awareness and just do something in the community to try to bring people together."
McDougald said he was appreciative of gestures such as the Jets' action plans and the Detroit Lions' protest cancellation of their Tuesday practice. But the safety is also aware that more is needed than conversation.
"This is definitely something that I and a lot of my brothers in the locker room, we don't want swept under the rug," McDougald said. "This is not a one-day topic or 'when it happens we need to talk about it.' This is something real in our community that we're dealing with and I'm going to deal with the rest of my life and my kids are going to deal with.
"I think it's cool that we're keeping it alive, but this isn't new at all, either. This has been going on for a long time and it sucks because it feels like this is the norm. ... We've got more work to do, on the football field and in the community with each other. We've got more work to do."