Detroit Lions were the spark needed for athletes to protest en masse for social justice

Detroit Free Press

“Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet.” — the late Sen. John Lewis

They didn’t march across a bridge like Sen. John Lewis.

They didn’t refuse to give up their seat on a bus.

No, it was more subtle than that.  But it was still powerful and profound in its own way.

The Detroit Lions shined a megawatt beam of attention on racial injustices on Tuesday when they started talking and listening to each other, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The discussions went on for hours.

To hell with practice, they canceled it.

Then, the Lions came out of their building at Allen Park and made an even bigger statement, talking about inequality and sharing their stories. It would be one thing if the Lions had kept this in-house. That they came out and talked about it publicly took it to another level.

And they should be applauded.

There is reason to be proud of this organization, just for recognizing this moment.

For opening up this dialogue and making people listen.

For talking and listening and shining a light.

And, well, for finding a new way to raise awareness and seemingly starting a trend.

Because it didn’t stop with the Lions on Tuesday.

The Milwaukee Bucks refused to play in the NBA playoffs on Wednesday afternoon, as a form of protest.

To hell with games, this has to stop.

A short time later, the NBA announced that all of Wednesday’s playoff games were postponed.

In baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers decided not to play their Wednesday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, just 40 miles from where Blake was shot. And the WNBA joined in the boycott. And TNT analyst Kenny Smith. 

This is how change happens; when determined people are committed to make a difference.

What a beautiful, powerful thing.

So please, don’t focus on the postponed games. Don’t lament the loss of entertainment.

Just concentrate on the message behind it.

“Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.” — Lewis

It takes a tremendous amount of courage to open up and share, as the Lions did on Tuesday.

First among themselves and then publicly.

But it’s pointless if people don’t listen.

So please listen to Kerryon Johnson and try to understand where he’s coming from.

On Wednesday, Johnson retweeted a video that showed a white man with a long rifle shooting people during a protest. It’s an unbelievable video — ugly, dark, disgusting and frightening. It’s infuriating.

Then, the video captures the man walking down the street, while holding the gun, and the police pass him without doing anything.

Johnson wrote: “So this kid is able to walk TOWARDS police with a whole rifle out after he just shot multiple people………but resisting arrest is where the line is drawn??? You know we would not be afforded this luxury at all.”

Please, read his words carefully.

Try to understand his frustration and fears.

To hell with the games, to hell with practice, this has to stop.

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” — Lewis

I covered several of the protests in downtown Detroit this summer after the death of George Floyd.  And it was one of the most powerful, profound assignments of my career, watching people of all ages and all races, marching together. White and Black. Young and old. Chanting the names of those who have been killed.

The protests that I covered were peaceful. And for that, Detroit should be commended.

And I realize that some protests around the country have turned into riots. But I wish people would focus on the root cause, rather than what some idiots are doing, turning this violent.

“All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of the Republican National Convention. “We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that we’re denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about fear.”

“You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone — any person or any force — dampen, dim or diminish your light … Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won.” — Lewis

A light.

That’s what this feels like, like the Lions have created a light of tolerance and understanding, pushing the issue forward, putting it in a spotlight, knowing it’s hard and painful to talk about these issues, but it’s badly needed.

You have to give credit to owner Sheila Ford Hamp, general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia for creating this environment. This organization is giving its players freedom to talk and the opportunity to use their massive platform to speak out against social injustice.

“This organization is going to make sure that we speak out on it,” Duron Harmon said. ”Nobody can be silent. If you’re being silent, you’re okay with it. You’re okay with what’s happening. Nobody in this organization, nobody on this team, is OK with it. So we’re going to do our part to create change.”

The Lions did a great thing this week, trying to create change.

What can you do?

It’s pretty simple.

Just listen.

Nassir Little, from the Portland Trail Blazers, wrote an important tweet on Wednesday: “When I say black lives matter, I’m not referring to an organization, taking a political stance or following a trend. I’m telling whoever is capable of seeing or hearing the statement, that black lives matter. Simple.”

“Bingo,”the Lions’ Jamal Agnew wrote as he retweeted Little’s message.

Johnson retweeted the exchange — and thankfully, beautifully, the conversation is continuing across the internet.

Just listen.

Contact Jeff Seidel: Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to

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