NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Titans defensive lineman DaQuan Jones, who joined teammates in protesting after the playing of the national anthem in 2016 in an effort to effect change in matters of racial injustice and police brutality, is contemplating whether he should continue this season because of what happened to Colin Kaepernick.
“It’s going to affect your job, your endorsements and your money,” said Jones, who joined the Titans’ 2016 protest a couple of weeks into the regular season. “Someone like me, going into my fourth year, I’m trying to get paid too. A lot of teams will look down at that and say, ‘He’s a Colin Kaepernick.'”
Last season, Jones, defensive lineman Jurrell Casey and linebacker Wesley Woodyard all raised their right fists after the national anthem ended to raise awareness of racial issues. Despite maybe having even more reason to protest in 2017, given the violent white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, last week and the current state of racial issues in America, all three are leaning against protesting the same way this season.
The buzz around Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the anthem — and his current unemployment — is talked about on a semi-regular basis in the Titans’ locker room. This group of three “woke” players, as Casey calls them, started to communicate with one another about a unified plan of action, but they expect to discuss it more this preseason.
“Did protesting really change much last year? I don’t really think so,” Casey said. “We gotta find a better way. Protesting on a Sunday doesn’t do itself justice because we did that last year and there was only more uproar, without much change.”
The three players, in addition to Titans receiver Rishard Matthews, all believe Kaepernick is being blackballed and figure many of their NFL colleagues feel the same. Woodyard believes Kaepernick is better than 90 percent of NFL backup quarterbacks.
“I know there are guys who want to take a knee or stand up as well, but a lot of people come to this league from nothing. Job security is everything,” said Matthews, who was a college teammate of Kaepernick’s at Nevada. “It’s not a secret that guys who protest on teams might be gone.”
His opinion was swayed over the last year since Kaepernick’s anthem protest began. Matthews initially disagreed with the protest because of his military support and the fact that his half-brother died in Afghanistan while serving the United States. However, Matthews now says he realizes all sides of the argument, including players who won’t protest out of fear.
No matter the players’ final decision, their actions will be unified like their 2016 protest. Starting a foundation or group movement and getting on the front line to create change in their own community are a few other options the trio discussed.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey supported his players’ right to protest last year, but he hasn’t heard any rumblings about it this season.
“I haven’t talked to them about it,” Mularkey said. “I haven’t given it a second thought, honestly. I probably won’t say anything about it.”
All of these issues are important to some NFL players across the league. Jones sat at his locker after Wednesday’s practice, watching a video of a white supremacist group beating up a black man in Charlottesville last weekend. He simply shook his head.
“The Charlottesville thing over the weekend with the riots really caught my eye. It’s very disgusting what’s definitely going on,” Casey said. “We can’t be afraid to voice our opinions about this.”
Added Woodyard, who says he has experienced racial discrimination from police dating back to high school: “I feel like America is in a bad place right now, with all the racial tension. We have to be better than our ancestors were. It’s 2017, and we’re still struggling with issues we had in the 1930s.”
Casey called for even more NFL players to come together and figure out a way to use their platform to effect change.
“We’re going to keep standing up for what’s right on our side. And if they can’t see the injustice, then that’s where the divide is going to be,” Casey said.
Matthews then recalled what veteran receiver Harry Douglas told him: “We’re men that play football. We’re not just football players.”