Even though he was born in Highland Park, Texas – a place where diversity is minimal – Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has benefited from recent events, linked to racial inequalities and police brutality, as well as the rise in popularity of the Black Lives Matter movement, to learn about and listen to black teammates who live in difficult situations on a daily basis.
The Michigan roster was one of the first professional sports teams to take concrete action in protest after Jacob Blake, a black man, was shot multiple times by a police officer in August. The team had canceled their training the day after the situation. Despite his many exploits in the field, Stafford said in an open letter to The Players Tribune that today was his proudest day to be a member of the Lions.
“We had some very difficult conversations,” he writes. We shared stories. We had debates. We cried. We were uncomfortable, angry, all at the same time. ”
The pivot of the Lions very rarely uses social networks, which makes this text one of its rare public outings. He was also indignant that after his family's practice was canceled, he received text messages from a few people who apologized for having to experience this situation.
“There are still people, as sad as it is, who are unable to listen.”
“The fact that people are sorry for me, or think about football during times like this, it says a lot. There are still people in this country who want sport to be just a distraction and that is their right. But let me say the opposite. ”
At the heart of a racist situation
During the offseason, Stafford traveled to Atlanta to train with his receivers. During the first four days Stafford and Danny Amendola, a white receiver, practiced together and they had no problems. When the quarterback returned to the same spot with four other black teammates, the athletes didn't have a second to practice before someone told them they couldn't be there.
“We were still picking up the balloons and trying to find a new place we could go when the man pulled out his cell phone,” Stafford said. He said, “I'm calling the police.” After all we've witnessed in the last few months and how quickly a situation can escalate for no reason. And now the police are called. ”
“We were there 10 minutes. Nobody has said anything bad to him and he calls the police saying that we don't want to cooperate and that we don't want to leave the place. ”
Listening to his teammates
Stafford had a particularly difficult time in 2019 when his wife had surgery to remove a tumor in her brain. He says his teammates have always been there for him, so he did the same. He was particularly troubled by a story about quarterback hunter Trey Flowers.
The latter, if he is stopped by a policeman, lowers his window, puts his hands on the wheel and asks the policeman if he wants him to get out of the vehicle in order to handcuff him to make sure that he does not represent a threat.
“All this just so as not to be seen as a threat. All this just to get home safely. No one in America should feel this way. ”
“All I can ask of you, as we continue our season, is to close your eyes and put yourself in someone else's shoes. Try for a minute to put social media, politics and debates aside. Ask yourself tough questions. But more than anything, listen. It is high time, ”Stafford concluded.