Every football team goes out of its way to eliminate distractions. You hear it in every press conference, locker room interview, and even the occasional sneak peek into a team meeting.
Eliminate the distractions and the team has a better chance of achieving greatness.
The irony of it all is that the game of football is a distraction in itself. Football, like all sports, provides a distraction from the ills of our society, such as police brutality, systemic racism, and poverty, just to name a few.
Players in the National Basketball Association took an unprecedented step in eliminating one distraction Wednesday when they refused to play their respective playoff games in the wake of another incident of a Black man, this time Jacob Blake, being shot by police several times Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the renewed tension between citizens and police that ensued. Athletes in the Women's National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and Major League Soccer also refused to take the court/field.
As of this writing, Blake will be fortunate enough to live to talk about his encounter (not that he would want to recount it) with the police. So many others before him cannot say the same.
However, he did not escape the situation without life-altering effects, as he is now paralyzed from the waist down. That carries much more weight than the postponement of a night's worth of sporting events.
In the National Football League, the Detroit Lions canceled practice Tuesday to shed light on what happened in Wisconsin. And while the Eagles have practiced every day since the shooting in preparation for the 2020 NFL season, they are not blocking out the perceived "outside noise."
They are listening to it intently.
"Our team has continued the conversation and dialogue," Head Coach Doug Pederson told reporters Wednesday. "That's something we're going to continue to do, that's something we've agreed to do, and continue to talk to our players quite a bit about."
"It's just where we are as a country," he added. "You got to put football aside. This is human life. This is about all our lives and these guys have a message, they have a platform, they have something that needs to be said.
"I'm here, obviously, to listen, to listen to their ideas, and their comments, and the things that they're dealing with every single day."
Safety Rodney McLeod, who participated in protests in Philadelphia this summer, told reporters Wednesday that doing something similar to what the Lions did had not yet been discussed. The "tragic situation" in Wisconsin, as he called it, will be addressed in the team's next Social Justice Committee meeting on Friday. The meeting was already scheduled prior to Blake's shooting.
For those unaware, the Eagles' Social Justice Committee formed in 2018 with McLeod, Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long, and Nelson Agholor as its initial player representatives along with members of the front office. The committee's goal is to donate funds to area-based organizations that work to seek equality in education, the criminal justice system, police relations, poverty, and much more. In two years, the program has provided $858,000 to those organizations.
With Jenkins and Agholor on new teams and Long retiring, McLeod said that he recruited a slew of new members to the committee who were all eager to join after a renewed focus on social justice this summer. The committee includes quarterback Carson Wentz, defensive tackle Malik Jackson, wide receiver DeSean Jackson, tight end Zach Ertz, cornerback Avonte Maddox, safety Will Parks, kicker Jake Elliott, former player now Special Assistant to the General Manager Connor Barwin, and other team staff members. Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie and Executive Vice President/General Manager Howie Roseman are also involved.
Donating money is only part of the committee's goal. The committee also aims to continue the fight against social injustice and the inequality that has plagued our country for centuries.
"It's good to be able to have an open dialogue with a lot of these guys all coming from different backgrounds, but we're all putting our heads together to represent our team the best way that we can and to use our voices in the right way," McLeod said.
But even with everything that has occurred, what is the right way? Taking a knee during the National Anthem like Colin Kaepernick caused a great deal of consternation for a segment of football fans, but it also drew attention to a worthy cause. How will the Eagles use their platform come gameday, the first of which is less than a month away?
Whatever they do, McLeod said that the decision will be made as a team.
"Everybody has a different opinion on what they want to do to show our unity and support, and you see NBA players right now all taking a knee in solidarity, MLB, MLS, the list goes on," said McLeod before NBA players took the next step to postpone games later on Wednesday. "When you think about it, this was kind of where it was formed, the National Football League dealing with Colin Kaepernick."
Coincidentally, Kaepernick first sat during the National Anthem four years ago Wednesday.
"It's going to be a tough conversation," he added. "I think the best part is we're all open to hearing what's best for our team and our organization and that may mean us taking a knee, that could mean us raising our fist in solidarity, or we could take a whole different approach to shine light on a lot of these social injustice matters that exist in our country.
"I'm very excited about that meeting, to go in there with an open mind. I have a few ideas that I would like to bring to the table, and I'm sure whatever the decision is, it'll be the best for not only our team but to shine light on this matter and continue this movement that we've been trying to do for so long in seeking change."
Change will not come easy. It will be a long and arduous process. The first step in sparking said change will be dealing with it head-on, and the Eagles are prepared to do that.