Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard: Giants game boycott not ruled out

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants haven't ruled out the option of sitting out a game in the regular season to protest social injustice, according to lead running back Saquon Barkley and wide receiver Sterling Shepard.

Barkley and Shepard were asked on Zoom calls Thursday after practice whether not playing was a possibility. They did not rule it out. Both said it was something that would be discussed among the team.

"I can't really just go and speak on behalf of the whole league, but, for us, that is something that we're going to talk about within our [social justice] groups, within our team," Barkley said. "What's talked about in players meetings stays in players meetings."

It's unclear how serious the Giants players are about skipping a game. The Giants open on Sept. 14, a Monday night, when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"That's something that we're going to talk about as a team. I'm not going to comment on that until we do so," Shepard said.

The Giants players and team intend to continue their conversation on social justice issues Thursday afternoon and into the evening.

The Giants did hold practice Thursday while several other teams around the NFL decided to stay off the field in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake. The NBA players boycotted playoff games the previous day, and the WNBA postponed games.

This did not go unnoticed among the Giants players.

"Commend them for standing up, using their platform, using their voice," Barkley said.

Giants coach Joe Judge said that he had spoken to his leadership council in recent days -- and again Thursday morning -- and that they decided to continue practicing, in part to provide younger players a fair opportunity to make an impression in this shortened training camp.

Judge and the Giants were going to continue their social justice conversation Thursday afternoon during gaps in the team's schedule.

Judge has been adamant about how they can't just offer up blanket statements and instead need to take action. The players were divided into nine social justice groups earlier this year and had the freedom to pick causes in the local community where they want to get involved. The coach has been allowing the players to drive the initiatives and actions, including how to progress now given the recent events in Wisconsin.

"We're letting the players think about what they want to do," Judge said Thursday. "We're going to have conversations as a coaching staff and ownership tonight, and we'll have more answers then."

Owners John Mara and Steve Tisch have been key figures in the talks, according to Judge.

Barkley said the video of the Blake shooting made him "sick." He later told a story about how he was affected by social injustice through an incident involving his father. Barkley, who was a student at Penn State at the time, said the situation was "mishandled" by police.

It made him realize that he's not immune to our country's problems.

"You can't look at it as, 'Oh, it's Jacob Blake,'" Barkley said. "Obviously, I know he didn't pass away, but you have to be like, 'What if I were in that situation?' What if it was your brother, your cousin, what if it was [Shepard], what if it was Golden [Tate] or all those guys. That is kind of the way I look at it."

Barkley understands he's in a position to make a statement through his words and actions. He intends to take advantage of his platform.

He is among the NFL's biggest stars and has 2.2 million followers on Instagram alone.

"I understand God put me in a position to be able to have a platform. To be able to use my voice. I've been big on knowing my history, especially the athletes. The Bill Russells of the world, the Colin Kaepernicks of the world, and how they were able to handle those situations and use their voice," Barkley said. "It creates conversation. You have to ask yourself: 'What can you do? What can you do?'

"That is just the start. You have to spark those conversations and then take action. Find ways you can do. That is what we're trying to do with our team. And when we continue to find the right things to do, we'll continue to do it."