Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Chris Conley called on “figures who are the face of the league” to do more to help fight social injustice.
The sixth-year pro made it clear Thursday he was talking about the NFL’s top quarterbacks, the ones who have the most influence in games, in locker rooms and in communities. Think Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, and Lamar Jackson, for starters.
“Until the people in the NFL who are irreplaceable decide that they’re going to step back and going to hang it up for a week, two weeks, whatever it may be, but I don’t foresee that happening,” Conley said during a video call with reporters. “I think you have great leaders in this league. You have guys who have a voice and want to be heard and who are willing to make that sacrifice. I believe I’m one of them.
“But until those figures who are the face of the league decide that and people rally behind them, I don’t think you see that, I don’t think you see that from us. I hate to say that. I wish I could stand up and say with confidence that people in this league would band together for the least of these.”
Conley has been one of the team’s most outspoken leaders during a nationwide reckoning over racial injustice. He delivered an inspirational speech on the steps of the county jail in downtown Jacksonville in May, and took center stage during team meetings designed to find ways to promote change in the months since George Floyd’s death in Minnesota.
Conley was front and center again Thursday as the Jaguars grappled with whether to practice in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting in Wisconsin. Blake, 29, was shot by police, apparently in the back, as he leaned into his SUV, three of his children seated inside. The shooting was captured on cellphone video and ignited new protests in the U.S. three months after Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer touched off coast-to-coast protests and rallies.
Nine NFL teams canceled practice in response to Blake’s shooting.
Jacksonville held a two-hour team meeting before players voted 37-36 to practice, agreeing before the roll call to unify behind the decision.
Conley took the field with teammates and later vowed to continue his push to create change. He also believes it would help to have the league’s most prominent players at the forefront of the fight.
“I don’t necessarily have that confidence in those people in that position, and that’s unfortunate. You see the leaders and the people in the other leagues stand up and say they’re sitting down,” Conley said, mentioning NBA stars LeBron James and Stephen Curry by name. “Those are the guys who are at the top of their game, the face of the league. The same thing would need to happen in the NFL for that to happen. Until then, I’m not sure.”
What would it take to get all the top quarterbacks on board?
“A hell of a lot of courage,” he said. “It would take someone of notoriety standing up and calling on other people of notoriety and saying, ‘Hey, we want to get something done. Let’s talk. Let’s find this message. Let’s find the actionable things that people can do to change. Let’s put pressure on them right now, and anyway we can, let’s use the platform while we have it because this isn’t forever.’
“We won’t have this platform forever; not everyone will care forever. So they got to use it because his voice ain’t quite the same as mine. It’s just not the same. … They have that power. We can challenge them to use it to champion other people’s voices.”