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Packers' Billy Turner weighs in on effectiveness of anthem protests, skipping NFL games

Ryan Wood
Packers News

GREEN BAY - The pain in Billy Turner’s voice was palpable, so poignant it could not only be heard, but felt. 

Almost a week had passed since the Green Bay Packers offensive lineman watched video of police officer Rusten Sheskey shooting Kenosha man Jacob Blake seven times in the back from point-blank range. Yes, Turner still hurt Friday afternoon, but pain is a complex thing. It takes different forms. The pain Turner felt on his Zoom call with reporters, sitting down in a “B Nice” shirt before a block-G backdrop, is not the pain required to gut through a Sunday afternoon on an NFL field. 

No, this was something different.  

“I’m embarrassed,” Turner said. “I’m embarrassed as a human. I’m embarrassed to be part of the human race. Because what media shows us, like, that’s how we treat each other? Everyone wants to talk about life and death. … Imagine, theoretically, if you are an extraterrestrial and you’re just sitting out there watching what’s going on, on Planet Earth. I wouldn’t dare touch foot on that planet. 

“Why? Because we’re killing each other. It doesn’t make any sense.” 

Green Bay Packers lineman Billy Turner talks to members of the media at Lambeau Field on Thursday, March 14, 2019 in Green Bay, Wis.

The Packers spent the past week trying to make sense of the senseless. They returned to the field Friday inside the Don Hutson Center one day after coach Matt LaFleur canceled practice. They strapped on full pads, making up for lost time in a physical session. 

But their attention never strayed too far from the world outside. How do you focus on football when something decidedly bigger than football is happening all around them? “It’s tough, man,” Turner admitted. Then, instead of dishing on his competition to be either the starting right tackle or right guard on the Packers offensive line, Turner invited everyone to watch the documentary film “13th,” which highlights how the prison system in the United States reveals the country’s deep-seeded history of systemic racism. 

Turner, inside linebacker Christian Kirksey and safety Adrian Amos, three Black men who have been vocal regarding racial equality and police brutality on their personal social media feeds, each addressed media on Zoom calls after Friday’s practice. They were transparent, emotional, raw, revealing what it’s been like over the past week since seeing another Black man shot in the back by a police officer. 

“I have a daughter,” inside linebacker Christian Kirksey said, “and I will have to raise her in a world where it’s just chaos, in a world where I have to explain to her what it means to be Black in America. Just continue to see police brutality and people being mistreated and done wrong, that’s unacceptable.” 

It’s tough to focus on football, even with the opener in Minnesota almost two weeks away, when fear grips the mind. Kirksey acknowledged he did not have his best practice Friday. Yes, Kirksey said, he expects to hear from inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti about it. 

No matter what was happening outside the Don Hutson Center, Kirksey said the expectation was to perform inside. As a professional athlete, there’s a standard he must meet. No excuses. 

He questioned why the same isn’t also true for law enforcement. 

“There’s a certain standard that I have to carry,” Kirksey said. “That goes to officers, as well. That goes to politicians, as well. That goes to teachers, as well. There’s a certain standard. If you sign up to do a job, you have to meet those standards. I’m tired of Black people not having a voice regardless of people’s comments or saying, ‘Well, he may have been doing this. He didn’t comply.’ 

“At the end of the day, as an officer, you’re supposed to carry yourself in a certain way. You’re supposed to do your job a certain way, and we’re not seeing that, and I’m tired of it. And we’re tired of it as people, Americans. We’re all tired of it.” 

It’s unclear where the Packers’ push for racial equality and fair treatment for all from law enforcement goes from here. When asked, Turner suggested the national anthem protests will continue this season, though he, Kirksey and Amos did not say whether they’ll participate. Protesting is an intensely personal decision and, with the opener still 16 days away, each said they wanted to give more time and thought. It’s possible, if not likely, the Packers could have a coordinated demonstration, such as the team did while locking arms during the national anthem during the 2017 season. 

Turner forcefully pushed back against Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ request that players demonstrate before the anthem, not during. 

“That’s not what protesting is about,” Turner said. “Protesting the national anthem is to get a point across that society and everyone watching football games every Sunday has a chance to see so you get your point across. The idea of protesting is to make people that are higher up – like our President – notice what we are doing. We understand that he doesn’t like that. 

“Why do you think we continue to protest? Because nothing has changed."

Turner acknowledged there has been some conversation about how to continue highlighting necessary social justice changes during the regular season. The NBA and MLB postponed postseason and regular-season games this week, and with the NFL season nearing, that might also be an option for football. 

Turner was skeptical whether a players strike to postpone or cancel games would be effective. 

“Sure, we can do that,” Turner said. “That’s easy. What change is that going to bring initially and right away? Football fans across the country and the world pissed off because they can’t watch football. What is that negativity going to bring to the world because we’re not out there playing this game? I don’t know that that necessarily creates change initially.” 

What can create change, players believe, is further conversation. More awareness. A furthered effort to highlight systemic racism and police brutality against minorities. 

So wherever the Packers take their role in this movement, they expect to continue being involved. 

No, Kirksey said, they will not be silenced. 

“To people who just say shut up and play football,” Kirksey said, “that's just – to me that's ignorant. Why, when it comes to a football game, you love me, but when it comes to me talking about people and real-life issues, now you all of a sudden have a problem with me? I'm more than just a football player. I think that people forget that, and they look at us as entertainers and not people. I don't go to a person's job and tell a teacher, 'Just teach a class and shut up.' I don't say that, and I think that people take that and when it comes to an athlete, they don't look at us in the same light.  

“No, we're people. We have rights just like everyone else. We vote just like everyone else. We have families just like everyone else and we have real-life issues just like everyone else. So on Sundays, if you can cheer on and say I'm your favorite player or if you can criticize me on a missed tackle or missed assignment, then I have a right to express my feelings.”