As the buses left the team hotel on Tuesday morning for the 15-minute ride to the Jets' training facility ahead of the first of two joint practices, the conversation at the front of one bus was not about the final week of the preseason or the fast-approaching end of Training Camp.
It was about the Summer of Soul.
Summer of Soul?
Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is the directorial debut for Philadelphia's Questlove. The documentary unearthed never-before-seen footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that featured performances by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, The Fifth Dimension, among several other influential Black musicians whose legacies still resonate to this day. Over 300,000 people attended the festival at Mount Morris Park over six weekends from June 29-August 24. Everyone knows about Woodstock, the three-day music extravaganza held that same summer. So why not the Harlem Cultural Festival? Footage from the spectacular display of Black pride and unity was hidden in a basement, nearly lost for eternity.
Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie's documentary production company Play/Action Pictures produced the critically acclaimed film that won a Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The Guardian praised it as one of the best concert films ever made.
Lurie invited the entire team to a screening at the NovaCare Complex on Monday afternoon, just before the trip to North Jersey. Following the two-hour documentary, which can be seen now in theaters and on Hulu, Lurie hosted a Q&A session with the players, who were curious to know what inspired the Chairman and CEO to take on the project. Lurie, who was 17 at the time, couldn't believe that a cultural gem, a tour de force of Black culture, could be forgotten.
"We always talk about connecting and everybody being on the same page and being able to have those conversations. Connection. Connection is the word, and that's a great way to do it," said quarterback Jalen Hurts, a big fan of the music from that era who enjoyed hearing some of the songs for the first time. "I really value what it was about, the history of Blacks and what they've had to overcome and how they were able to use music to do those things. They used it as a steppingstone, so I really enjoyed it."
Tight end Zach Ertz, one of the longest-tenured players on the team, was the least bit surprised by Lurie's gesture to help unite the team together.
"He's always been on the forefront of social justice and equality. It speaks volumes about his character, but this isn't the first time he's done something like this," Ertz said. "It was very near and dear to his heart for him to produce something like that with his production company and Questlove as the lead producer. I think it was phenomenally done. They did a great job. I think in today's age, there's so much stuff that you don't know about, so it's important to continue educating people like myself about the Black community and what they've been through and what they stand for. It was awesome to see. The music was amazing. It was fun to take some time during camp with the guys to focus on togetherness outside of football."
Cornerback Darius Slay, who is in his second year with the Eagles but ninth NFL season, understands that not every organization operates in this manner.
"It's great that he is looking forward to helping out our culture and seeing where a lot of us come from and understanding us," the three-time Pro Bowl cornerback said. "It shows his appreciation to do that, reach out to us, and watch it as a team, so we can better understand each other."
New Head Coach Nick Sirianni preaches connection as one of the core principles of his program. The screening was the latest example of putting that into action.
"It's connecting as a team and sharing how we felt about the film and then ultimately him asking questions. It was a very diverse situation for him, so that means a lot," said 22-year-old Jalen Reagor, the youngest wide receiver on the squad. "You have certain people who avoid situations like that. I didn't know the festival was that impactful. It was something new for me to learn. Hearing some of those songs and the meaning behind them, like 'Oh Happy Day,' that's something I heard my grandmother sing a long time ago, so hearing the origin of that song was a learning experience for me."
"The closer you are as a team, the harder you play for one another, and I've found that true throughout my time in the NFL, playing sports, and in life," Ertz added. "The closer that any team is, the harder they're going to work for one another."