Duron Harmon didn’t want to watch the George Floyd video at first. It was heartbreaking to the Detroit Lions safety, how this could happen, how he could be watching video of another black man being killed by a police officer.
“You are sitting there and you see somebody, obviously the police officer who had so much power and just, you know, was going to abuse his power just to show how much power he had over the African American man, George Floyd,” said Harmon, who is in his first season with the Lions. “I think the thing that really hits home is that when I see that, I see myself. That I see my father. Then I see my cousins and then I see my son.
“It was very unfortunate, with everything going around, and I’m trying to explain to my 8-year-old why George Floyd lost his life and try to explain to him the best as I can for an 8-year-old that this is not right. This is wrong. And, you know, it really brought me to tears because it’s like the world should never be like this. We shouldn’t treat people the way we treat them just based off the color of your skin.”
When Harmon tried to explain Floyd’s death to his son, his son struggled to grasp why a police officer would do that. He knows the police officers who come to his school and are friends with his father. Harmon said his son called them “uncles.”
So how does he explain to his son what has happened? Harmon tried to focus on love, on what he’s learned from his faith.
“Through the midst of it, you’ve got to love. No matter what, right, wrong or indifferent, you’ve got to love,” Harmon said. “Just tried to instill that in him, that no matter the skin color, people are people. It’s the human race and we got to do better as a community to just push that out there.
“To do that, we have to identify the issue and have to realize, some people get upset when we say black lives matter. Some people pull back and say, 'well, all lives.' Yes, all lives matter but until we view black lives the same as white lives, all lives matter, that means nothing.”
Harmon had a conversation about race with his parents when he was 17 years old -- a talk, looking back now, he says was maybe a little too late. It came after an incident where a police officer in Delaware made Harmon get out of a car while he was waiting for his parents outside of Wal-Mart. The officer, Harmon said, threatened to break the glass of his window if he didn’t get out of the vehicle because he was parked in a fire lane, which he said he was ticketed for.
“My mom and my father, they told me, look, you are a black man,” Harmon said. “Right, wrong or indifferent, you are feared. When people see you get upset, they think and they see the big black guy who is angry. So you need to do a better job of controlling your emotions. You need to do a good job when you’re in a situation with the police, always be respectful, always show your hands, always roll down the window.”
Harmon said the police department learned he was a football player going to Rutgers and his family ended up going to the station to watch video of the incident. Watching it -- and seeing the microphone and video cut at points -- opened his eyes to the reality that he needed to be careful.
The 29-year-old said he could go “on and on” with instances he’s experienced with racism throughout his life -- from being stopped while driving in Massachusetts as a Patriots player because he had Delaware license plates after leaving the mall with his family to a cop pulling him over to ask whose car it was and why he was driving in Brockton, Massachusetts. When the officers in both incidents realized he played for the Patriots, the conversation shifted to football like nothing had happened.
Stories like Harmon’s were told throughout Detroit Lions meetings on Zoom this week. Players opened up and shared experiences with teammates and coaches as Lions coach Matt Patricia encouraged his players to voice their opinions.
“Obviously I was aware that there was a problem in this country and I knew we are not perfectly united as a country,” Lions center Frank Ragnow said. “But I’m sick to my stomach the things that I’ve heard from some of my teammates and some of my friends and some of my brothers that they have to worry about and they have to deal with.
“It’s been very eye-opening, very uncomfortable, very real. And I’ve just been trying, as a white person, just trying to listen and just trying to let them know and really let every black person that I don’t want to be a part of that problem anymore. I want to be there with them. I know I can’t really ever put myself in their shoes but, man, I want to help make it better.”
Both Harmon and Ragnow said the conversation must continue. They want to keep speaking out about racism and social injustice, and Ragnow preached accountability to help force change.
In the moment, however, he said the focus has to be on justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police in March, and Ahmaud Arbery, who was gunned down by two white men in Georgia in February, along with holding law enforcement accountable.
"As African American players, we have to make sure the NFL is always fighting this issue, having our back," Harmon said. "This is not an issue that a lot of people, a lot of African Americans, we’re not going away from this.
"We’re going to make sure that it gets changed and the only way we can do that is for our white brothers and white sisters, we need them with us. We’re crying for help and I feel like we’re at a point where help is on the way. Help is definitely on the way and the NFL is trying to make sure they supply that help as well so we can create real change in the world."