THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, this week provided Los Angeles Rams players and coaches with yet another somber reminder of the importance of their continued social justice efforts.
Professional sports teams have responded to this latest incident of racial injustice in different ways. The Detroit Lions canceled their Tuesday practice, while NBA players went on strike and forced the league to postpone Wednesday night's playoff games. While the Rams were not among the nine NFL teams who emulated the Lions and canceled their Thursday practices, that doesn't mean they aren't planning to take action.
"I think it's very critical," Rams wide receiver Robert Woods said of those decisions. "Everybody's been aware, I've been saying that. Now I feel like it's just trying to actually affect people. NBA, WNBA, Major League Baseball, they're affecting people's pockets where it hurts. Right now, we're still in training, but we're trying to use our voices, use our platform to actually affect change. Like I said, everybody's aware, and now it's time to take action."
Woods believes one of the most powerful ways to affect change is by voting. He wore a t-shirt signifying his partnership with Rock the Vote, a non-partisan organization whose mission is to empower young people to vote, during his virtual press conference Thursday.
"It's not just speaking, it's actually changing laws, you know, getting things implemented," Woods said. "You see what happened with Breonna Taylor – the cops, I feel like they're murderers and they're still out on the street. Change needs to happen. It comes down to laws and policies that are allowing these people to still be free. I think if we actually vote and make these changes, get these things implemented, I think justice will be served."
Speaking to local media during a video conference Wednesday evening, Rams cornerback Troy Hill said the decision by NBA players was "big" and "a good stance" in light of what's going on in the world.
Hill said he doesn't have the answers right now, but views ongoing dialogue as a step in the right direction.
"I don't really have the answers right now. I don't want to just come on here and just speak on some things. But we're having these conversations, these uncomfortable conversations, (and) the next step is maybe try to come together and figure this out together," Hill said. "Together unite and we'll be strong, but until then, we got to keep on taking these steps day-by-day and when we come with that solution, we got to all buy in to it. That's kind of my mindset about it and that's what I think we need."
Rams head coach Sean McVay has been mindful of the importance of these conversations. During the team's virtual offseason program this spring, he dedicated a team meeting to talking about systemic oppression and racism in wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of law enforcement.
Today, he paused practice after the stretching period to address the team, and gave defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day – one of the team's most vocal advocates for change – a chance to speak in front of the group. There was also a meeting with team leaders this morning about what's been going on throughout the country.
"(We) want to make sure that we're always opening up the lines of communication, not just transmitting information," McVay said. "We'll keep the specifics of that in house, but it's always about being able to connect with our guys, make sure we understand their perspectives and really figure out a way to put some tangible things in place to really move the needle in the right direction."
Some of Woods' teammates are still figuring out plans for how they can affect change. In the meantime, the team is doing its part to try to facilitate action.
In addition to the two previous gestures, McVay also encouraged players to come forward with ideas during Wednesday morning's team meeting, according to Rams running back Malcolm Brown. A leadership meeting was also held this morning to brainstorm grassroots efforts to affect change via player financial contributions and getting involved in the community.
"Forget race, religion, politics, forget all that nonsense. It comes down to right and wrong," Rams running back Malcolm Brown said during a video conference Wednesday evening. "I feel like, you're grown and you know what right and what wrong is. It's as simple as that. I don't think it really needs any crazy explanations anymore, we've been explaining it for a while. It just needed to take some type of action, and what those guys (in the NBA) did, I salute to them. Just for us, we've just definitely got to think of ways on our own to contribute and do what we can to make this whole situation better."