After the Green Bay Packers’ day of discussions and conversations about social and racial injustice on Thursday, the team got back to work on the practice field Friday morning. That also meant that the team held its usual player media availability via Zoom in the afternoon, and there was no mistaking the purpose behind the choice of players who spoke today.
Billy Turner, Adrian Amos, and Christian Kirksey have all been outspoken players in their brief tenures with the Packers, particularly about the issues of racial inequality and policing that flared up in Kenosha over the past week. Their comments on the live stream helped illustrate a bit more about what the Packers did on Thursday, how the organization is supporting its players from the top down, and what the team plans to do moving forward.
Turner spoke first, addressing Thursday’s meetings with his opening remarks and focusing on the fact that he felt encouraged coming out of them. “The conversations that were had yesterday as a team, as an organization, they’re emotional, they’re impactful, and they were positive,” he said. “It’s tough to say that they were positive with such negative acts that continue to happen in our society and in our world, but the positivity that came from those conversations ... it was communication between the organization. From the top all the way own, from the team from the coaches, to the staff.”
In what would become a theme across all three players, Turner spoke to the buy-in that the team has received from president/CEO Mark Murphy and the other leaders within the organization. He mentioned that Murphy, general manager Brian Gutekunst, and director of football operations Russ Ball were all present and participating, and were doing so at the players’ request. “We asked the guys in the front office to be part of the meeting and spoke our minds and told them what we want as our football team.”
Turner called the leaders’ participation “meaningful,” likely due to those individuals’ apparent willingness not just to listen, but to step up and help their players take action. Amos expanded on that, saying “They were very receptive. I feel as though it’s an open door with them. They have been listening, giving feedback, and I think we’re gonna get a lot done as long as we continue to meet and continue to talk about it.
“To keep pushing to create change, we’re going to take a lot of actions within the community as well as with higher-up officials in order to get things done.”
As for what sorts of things they will do, Amos mentioned advocating for more widespread use of body cameras for police, as well as community involvement. Turner spent time discussing ways to advocate for change within the United States’ education system. Kirksey focused on accountability for police officers. But all of them emphasized that as players, their voices aren’t enough. Instead, these players all discussed how the NFL’s owners, or in the case of the Packers, Murphy as team president, need to step up and help the players push these changes.
“Ownership, that’s the big money,” Amos said. “They have a lot of influence within the states and it’ s big when those teams come out and speak, when those top officials — that’s their title, owners — they own a lot of stock in their particular states and they have a lot of influence.”
Turner wants to see a direct push from Murphy and the NFL’s owners to leverage their influence, saying “we want them to be able to go into their phone and their contact list and to be able to make these moves for us,” suggesting that “calling out the people that sponsor the Green Bay Packers” should be a place to start.
Kirksey, the shortest-tenured Packer in the group, echoed confidence in the front office’s commitment to the players’ efforts: “The people in the front office are doing a great job of making sure that messages are being sent and actions are being taken,” he said. “I feel that they have our best interests and we’re going to do something special.”
With the NFL just over two weeks away from the first Sunday of the regular season and in light of the Milwaukee Bucks’ walkout from Wednesday’s playoff game, questions naturally arise about whether the Packers might plan a similar demonstration. Turner, for his part, suggested that such an action is unlikely and would be unproductive: “Yeah, you can go out there and boycott football games, but what change is that going to bring initially right now? Football fans pissed off? I don’t know that it creates change initially.”
Not playing games doesn’t mean that teams and players will stop finding ways to express themselves in protest, however. If anything, Turner feels that they will only be more prominent once the season does get underway. “(Protesting is) not gonna stop this year. If anything it’s gonna be more profound, more noticed this year. What exactly is going to be done? That’s up for discussion between teams, that’s up for discussion between every individual.”
Being athletes in the public eye does not mean that these players’ voices are any less important than anyone else’s. Kirksey in particular hearkened back to a situation that hit close to his hometown when discussing that perception. He graduated from Hazelwood West high school near St. Louis, just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri, and said he could not say quiet about the events that took place there in 2014. Now, he feels a similar connection to Kenosha being a Packer: “Being in Wisconsin, we can’t be quiet (about) things that happened in Kenosha. It’s our responsibility because we’re a part of that community. If people can watch us on TV playing football, why can’t they hear us when we’re talking about real life issues?
“To people who say just shut up and play football, to me that’s ignorant. Because why when it comes to a football game you love me, but when it comes to talking about people and real-life issues, you have a problem with me? I’m more than just a football player.”
Expect to see NFL players continue to push for social changes with their words and actions as the season approaches and once it begins. Furthermore, it is clear that the Packers’ players are pushing the organization to take a more active role in helping drive those changes and that the team’s leadership structure is engaged and open in that effort.
The Packers open the season on Sunday, September 13th against the Minnesota Vikings.