Lions’ Stafford recounts seeing racism firsthand

  • Previously covered University of Michigan for ESPN.com and AnnArbor.com
  • Also covered Notre Dame for Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

In an essay on The Players Tribune on Friday, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford detailed racism he saw firsthand with teammates in the spring while working out in Georgia.

Stafford wrote in the essay that he went to work out with Danny Amendola one week at a field — something he had prearranged — and had no issues. The next week, he showed up to the same field with the same permissions with four Black teammates and was told to leave.

“We were just starting to dump all the footballs out on the field and some of the guys were still stretching when a gentleman came out and told us that we were trespassing — and to leave immediately. We didn’t even have our cleats on yet. I remember I was standing there in my socks, just kind of stunned and confused, like, What,” Stafford wrote. “But he didn’t even want to listen. We were still gathering up the footballs and trying to figure out another spot where we might be able to go when the gentleman pulled out his cellphone.

“He said, ‘I’m calling the police.’ After everything that we’ve witnessed over the last few months, and how situations can escalate for no reason at all … and here the police are being called.

“We were there for maybe 10 minutes total. Nobody said a bad word to him. And he still called the police and told them that we were being ‘uncooperative’ and ‘not leaving the property.'” Stafford wrote that he and his teammates left immediately and that the quarterback was “embarrassed to have put my teammates in that situation.”

He wrote, “The only difference is what we all know in our hearts. Danny and I are white. We don’t get the cops called on us in those situations. We don’t immediately get called uncooperative. And even if Danny and I somehow did get the cops called on us, we all know how that interaction would’ve gone.”

Stafford wrote that in the day of meetings leading up to the team’s decision to cancel practice in August in protest of the Jacob Blake shooting, the story that stuck with him was the one told by teammate Trey Flowers.

Flowers explained what he does if he is ever pulled over by police and how “he copes with the anxiety” of any dealings he has with law enforcement.

“Trey was explaining that if he were to ever get pulled over in his car — something that I have experienced many times without even thinking twice about it — he would roll down his window, put both hands on the wheel and ask the officer if he would like him to step out of the car so he can handcuff him,” Stafford wrote.

“Just so that he is not seen as a threat. Just so the officer can’t say, ‘Oh, he was reaching here, he was reaching there.’ … Just so he makes it back home.

“If you’re a white person, all I’m asking you to do is to really think about that. Imagine that being your first instinct when you see police lights in your rearview mirror. No one in America should have to feel this way.”

Stafford said after the team’s protest that he received text messages that opened his eyes to how far away he believes some people are from listening.

“Things like, ‘Sorry you had to miss practice’ or ‘Sorry you have to deal with this stuff, man,'” Stafford wrote. “The fact that anyone would feel sorry for me, or be thinking about a football practice at a time like that, really speaks volumes.

“There are still people in this country who just want sports to be a distraction, and that’s their right. But I beg to differ.”

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