Packers coach Matt LaFleur meets with players on Kenosha shooting: 'Things have to change'
GREEN BAY - Even with training camp taking up most of their time and COVID-19 precautions isolating them from friends and family even further, Green Bay Packers players do not live within a bubble.
They drive their cars, walk their dogs, pick up their groceries and get their hair cut, all in the city in which they work.
They are not insulated from the outside world and so when another video of another Black man being shot by the police emerged Sunday, it set off many of the same emotions that occurred when George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer May 25.
For a team that is nearly 70% Black, the video of Jacob Blake being shot repeatedly in the back by a Kenosha police officer reverberated through the Packers locker room. Blake was in serious condition Monday after undergoing surgery. The incident resulted in coach Matt LaFleur meeting with his leadership council for 45 minutes after practice. The group openly discussed the shooting and brainstormed ways the organization could respond.
LaFleur opened his daily Zoom news conference apologizing for being late and then got emotional as he described the feelings being expressed in the meeting.
“You know, it’s amazing to me that this is still happening,” LaFleur said. “So, I wanted to get our guys’ perspective, and try to float around some ideas on how we can make a difference and use our platform, because things have to change.
“The social injustice, the police brutality, the antiquated laws, just got to bring awareness to everybody that Black lives matter. We can’t stand for this any longer.”
Packers players had released a video called "It’s Time For Change" after the Floyd killing. The video featured about a dozen players, both Black and white, expressing anger, hurt, disgust, and frustration over police shootings of unarmed Black men. Early in the video, several players team up to say, “Enough is enough.”
LaFleur also spoke in the video and the Packers organization, led by President/CEO Mark Murphy, has supported the Black Lives Matter movement and donated $500,000 – half of it a personal match from Murphy — to support local social justice reform and racial equality.
LaFleur’s response to the shooting of Blake was forceful.
He said he didn’t know all the facts around the shooting, but he was texted a video of Blake being shot in the back that was circulating on social media and felt it important that he and his team open up about it.
“It keeps happening over, and over, and over again, and it blows my mind that we’re sitting here in 2020, and we can’t treat everybody the same,” LaFleur said. “I don’t know, I’m just kind of at a loss for words. I know I don’t know all the facts around the case, but it keeps happening over and over and over again.”
Tackle Billy Turner, who grew up in Minneapolis and has been one of the most outspoken Packers on social justice, used his Twitter account to express his feelings. Just last week, Turner had talked in depth with reporters about why he felt it necessary to speak up and why the Black Lives Matter movement means so much to him.
Turner tried to explain how the police shootings affect Black men.
“Imagine,” he wrote. “Living your entire life & everytime you see a police car/officer you fear for your Life & start praying because you are fearful that you’re going to lose your life at the hands of the people who are supposed to serve and protect you.”
At the end of the post, he wrote, “Black On Earth.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is on the leadership council, happened to be scheduled for a Zoom interview to talk about training camp. He is on the video the Packers made and while not as outspoken as LaFleur or Turner, he said listening to others was as important as speaking his mind.
Rodgers didn’t reveal much about the meeting, other than that tight end Marcedes Lewis was the first to speak.
“I think there were a lot of personal things that were said in those settings,” Rodgers said. “I think like I said in the video and like we talked about in the video that we put out, there’s a systemic problem, and until the problem is fixed, this is going to be an all-too-common sighting in this country.
“It obviously hits home being not far from Green Bay. I’m not going to comment directly on the video until more facts come out, but obviously it’s something where as a non-police officer, I think a lot of us, (the) natural question is when is lethal force necessary.”
Kicker Mason Crosby, who appears on the “It’s Time to Change” video, was also scheduled to talk to reporters Monday. When asked about the leadership council meeting, he said the communication within the group was excellent.
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Crosby said just having the opportunity to hear experiences from teammates was what made the meeting so important.
“I feel like the different personalities and individuals in that room, I mean, just intelligent guys that bring out some amazing points, some amazing topics, things that, you know, different perspectives that some of us haven't experienced,” Crosby said. “And I’m thankful to coach LaFleur for bringing that group together as often as we do and just having us talk and having us connect in so many different ways."
The Packers released this statement regarding the Kenosha shooting:
"The Packers organization was shocked to see the video that showed police shooting Jacob Blake multiple times in the back. We are hopeful Jacob makes a full recovery, and our thoughts are with his family.
"While we understand a full investigation of this terrible incident will take place, we are deeply troubled at what again has become a painful example of the significant challenges we face with respect to police brutality, systemic racism and injustices against Black people. We continue to call for meaningful dialogue to affect the needed change we all desire."
Rodgers said he’s aware his interactions with police haven’t been the same as others in the locker room and he has tried to listen to what his teammates are saying . He said it’s time antiquated laws that punish people of color and keep systematic racism alive need to be removed.
Rodgers made a point of saying he has gotten to know current and former police officers who are around the team and doesn’t want to paint them all the same. But he said it’s time the bad ones are removed and the good ones help make that happen.
“It’s a bad look,” Rodgers said. “I hope there can be cops who can speak out as we’re speaking out about these things and be as disgusted at this unfortunate norm has become in our country. But it starts with the system that’s in place. Until the system is changed, there’s not going to be a whole lot of change.”
Rodgers said the team is still in discussions about how it will support the social justice movement on the sideline before its season opener Sept. 13 in Minneapolis. But he said he’s sure a statement will be made.
LaFleur said it will be well thought out.
“I’m really proud of those guys that are on that group,” he said. “You can tell it means something to these guys because this is real life. This is bigger than football. It’s awesome to know that we have some compassionate guys out there on this football team that, No. 1, they care about each other but also they care about just what’s going on in society.”