JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A group of Jacksonville Jaguars players did consider participating in a protest during the national anthem in support of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, at least until Kaepernick wore socks with pictures of pigs dressed as police officers.
Cornerback Prince Amukamara, speaking at a town-hall panel discussion Tuesday night featuring several players and civic leaders, said a group of 10-12 players talked to coach Gus Bradley about their decision to protest, but they couldn’t get organized and then Amukamara decided to drop out because of Kaepernick’s socks.
"I do agree with what Colin was kneeling for and how it wasn’t against the military, but he was protesting against injustice that was being toward black Americans being shot," Amukamara said. "Then when he did the sock thing with cops and pigs, I’m like, ‘No. Now I can’t even kneel with him because if I do, then I’m supporting that, too’, which I don’t support. I don’t think any cops are pigs.
"Me, KB [left tackle Kelvin Beachum], and a lot of guys on the team, either we were going to do it together or not at all. It wasn’t just going to be one or two people -- it was going to be 10 or 12 people -- and we just couldn’t get it worked out."
Five players did eventually come up with a protest on their own several weeks later before the Jaguars’ home game against Baltimore on Sept. 25. Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., defensive end Jared Odrick, linebacker Telvin Smith, linebacker Hayes Pullard and running back Denard Robinson raised their right hands during the national anthem.
Concern about race relations and social injustices is why Amukamara and Beachum, along with long snapper Carson Tinker, participated in the town-hall meeting at EverBank Field. The panel also included Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, assistant chief T.K. Waters of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s office and Victor Guillory, a retired rear admiral of the Navy.
The goal was to open a dialogue on ways to continue to foster positive relationships between NFL athletes, law enforcement, youth, and military and city leaders. The discussion touched on topics such as the climate of race relations in the country, identifying solutions to ease tensions between people of different backgrounds and races and building a game plan to implement some of those solutions in the Jacksonville area.
Curry drew applause from the crowd when he said effective change won’t happen until people admit that there is a gap of trust between the races.
"We can search for answers and we can debate answers for hours up here and still not come up with a conclusion but what we need to do -- and this is what this is about -- is we need to acknowledge the reality," Curry said. "The reality is I can walk out of here tonight and walk into a strange neighborhood at 9 o’clock tonight vs. an African American male and I am less likely to have a judgment. I probably won’t have any judgment on me, and an African American male likely will.
"We have to acknowledge that is a truth. We have to talk about it and that’s how you get into change."
The panel eventually decided on a 10-point plan to foster that change, including challenging the community to get out and meet different people, host more events that connect kids and police officers, diversifying mentoring programs and increasing city funding for programs for at-risk youths.
"I think it was a conversation that needed to be had, especially with all of the player protests and demonstrations," Beachum said. "It was something that we’ve been talking about in the locker room for some time and just wanted to find what was the best solution. I think this was a positive solution going in the right direction to be able to have the conversation, to be able to hear other thoughts and how it would be perceived here in the community."
Amukamara said the panel discussion was a good first step but what happens next is even more important.
"When offense or defense goes on the field, we huddle up and then we go get the play done," Amukamara said. "We hope this is not a huddle and we just stay in the huddle and keep talking about the play. We do hope that everyone breaks from this huddle and goes out and picks one of those solutions that we put on the board.
"I feel like all those solutions where right on target and they’re very, very easy to do. All you have to do is talk."