At 9:04 a.m. on Friday, members of the Jacksonville Jaguars roster, coaching staff, administration, and front office joined together at TIAA Bank Field on Friday to peacefully demonstrate throughout the city. It was more than a demonstration — it was a statement, screamed by an organization from top to bottom.
"We didn't do this for the league. We did this for Jacksonville," Jaguars wide receiver Chris Conley said during remarks following the march.
And Conley was right. All throughout the march, members of the Jacksonville community either drove by shouting or honking their horns in support, or clapped as the players and coaches marched past them. It was not a day of division, instead being a day of awareness and togetherness.
Conley was one of several current and former Jaguars to attend the march and walk side by side with members of the organization and the city as they protested for social justice and racial equality.
The complete list of players who attended the march is as follows: Josh Allen, AJ Cann, DJ Chark Jr., Chris Conley, Nathan Cottrell, Tyler Davis, Josh Dobbs, Terry Godwin, Rodney Gunter, Myles Jack, Abry Jones, Josh Lambo, Brandon Linder, Lerentee McCray, Kc McDermott, Matthew Orzech, James O’Shaughnessy, Brian Price, Tyler Shatley, Jawaan Taylor, and Jarrod Wilson.
The Jaguars are the first NFL team to organize such an event, which follows the death of George Floyd and other African Americans at the hands of police brutality. The idea to march from the Jaguars' stadium to the front steps of the Jacksonville Sheriffs Office stemmed from team meetings the Jaguars had earlier this week and resulted in the organization marching together with signs and Black Lives Matter shirts.
"Watching the events that have happened with Ahmaud Arbery — starting with Ahmaud Arbery. The video when it got released, I sat in my house upstairs in my office and I just began to cry. Because I saw someone who looked like me, someone who looked like my brother, someone who looked like my friends, get shot down and fall on the street like an animal. And that hurt me because I have seen it time and time again," Conley said during a nearly 10 minute long speech at the sheriffs office.
"The events of the last few months have culminated and shook the nation. For many, opening their eyes to something the marginalized have pointed out the whole time. What I and others know is that these atrocities have been foreshadowed. They have been allowed to manifest because of years of systemic indoctrination and oppression."
Conley pointed out that just a few blocks from where he and the Jaguars stood, a confederate monument stood in Jacksonville. Conley also referenced other aspects of racism and inequality in Jacksonville, such as Ax Handle Saturday, a stain on the city's history as a result of a 1960 event in which African Americans where violently attacked as a response to peaceful protests. He stressed that history and learning is important for every single person, whether black, white, or whatever else.
Also in attendance were Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell, head coach Doug Marrone, defensive coordinator Todd Wash, running backs coach Terry Robiskie, wide receiver coach Keenan McCardell, tight end coach Ron Middleton, defensive backs coach Tim Walton, and others. Former running back Denard Robinson and former wide receiver Ernest Wilford, who is now with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, also participated in the march.
Robiskie is the veteran of the Jaguars' coaching staff, and he made a point to speak following a silent act of kneeling along the steps of the sheriff's office. Robiskie has been taking part in civil rights marches since the late 1960s, and today's march was especially important to him.
"This is the first time I can tell you guys in my lifetime I felt an organization. An organization said something. To have a head coach step up with his family, to have a general manager speak to all the players, black and white, and say we are going to make a statement," Robiskie said during an emotional speech.
"Guys, all we got is each other. Stay together. Stick together. Stand for what you believe in. And eff the rest of it.
Robiskie said Marrone was especially important in helping put together the last minute march, which featured players driving into Jacksonville on the morning of the demonstration to take part. Marrone himself spoke following the event, though his Black Lives Matter shirt was gone, and for a good reason.
"I also want to point out for the people that joined us. As I was walking back, a gentleman came up to me and I didn't recognize him and I didn't know where he was from. But he said he was able to see it on TV, and he felt it was important to him. He asked me for my shirt because he wanted to be part of it ... I think that shows how important it is," Marrone said.
Marrone said he will never be able to know what it is like to be a black person in America or what it means to face the issues they face daily and have faced for centuries. But he wants to be apart of the change, he said, and he has challenged those around him to do the same.
"This is only the beginning. We have a long fight, and that fight may last after the season, beyond years, to our next generations. But we as competitors know we have to take the competitiveness we have as players, the competitiveness that I have seen in these great young men that we have, both black and white, and we need to take that competitiveness and put it into one. And of all of the things we need to do, that is the damn battle we need to win. The battle against racism."
Floyd died last Monday in the custody of Minneapolis police after police officer Derek Chauvin pinned him down with his knee on the back of his neck. The incident was captured on a video that went viral, showing Floyd repeating stating that he couldn't breathe.
Chauvin, who was one of four police officers detaining Floyd at the time, was arrested last Friday and is now charged with second-degree murder. The other officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao, have been arrested and charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
Since Floyd's death, there have been protests throughout the United States to push back against police brutality and racial inequality, with other victims such as Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others also being advocated for.
Leaders in sports have also spoken out against the racial injustice, with Jaguars owner Shad Khan released an op-ed on Wednesday to address Floyd's death, racism, and the need for change.
"I can only imagine their range of emotions today in the wake of all that has unfolded in 2020. I know they are hurting, yet also committed to doing good in Jacksonville and the communities where they were raised and will always consider home," Khan said. Mindful of this, I will listen to the players in the days ahead with an exceptionally keen ear so we can work with them to make the transition from conversation to actionable plans in the name of lasting change. And I will do the same with employees and associates throughout my various businesses, where the interests and concerns on this matter are no less vital.
"Racism, in all its forms, will kill. It kills people, it kills communities, it kills dreams, it kills hope."
For Khan's full op-ed, click here.
Continuing the momentum of peace and togetherness, Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette said on Twitter this week that he would be holding a peaceful protest of his own in Jacksonville sometime next week.
"Sometime next week I will he holding a peaceful protest walk down in Jacksonville I would love for everyone in Duval to come out and support......" Fournette wrote.