Demario Davis responds to Roger Goodell's statement on George Floyd: 'We have to change policing in America, that’s what matters'

Kristian Dyer

Former New York Jets and current New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis is adamant that social injustice and issues between police and minority communities need to continue to be pushed forward via all avenues of change. The All-Pro linebacker is encouraging players and everyone to have an active voice in light of last week’s death of George Floyd.

The death of Floyd last week in Minneapolis happened while he was laying on the ground, handcuffed and with a police officer’s knee at his neck. Floyd repeatedly asked for the officer to move, stating that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd would die an hour later at a hospital after numerous attempts to resuscitate him failed.

Floyd was an African American, leading to a visible response from that community in recent days. These have included plenty of peaceful protests but also incidents that have sparked some violence and rioting.

On Sunday night, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement about the passing of Floyd, one that was called weak on social media and led to criticism from the media. Davis said the responses to Goodell’s perceived weak statement dates back to Colin Kaepernick several years, who kneeled during the national anthem to bring to light issues of racial equality and in particular, his views on police brutality as aimed in particular towards African Americans.

It has been speculated that Kaepernick was blackballed by the league for this stance and the nature of his protest. He hasn’t played since being released by the San Francisco 49ers in 2016, the year after his protest started.

In speaking with SportsIllustrated.com, Davis said that the talk about Kaepernick’s kneeling for the anthem distracted from the cause for the protest - “We have to change policing in America, that's what matters.”

“It’s totally understandable for people to feel that way and the NFL should not expect anything less from people saying ‘We had a player who stood up on an issue that is very specific to an issue that you dealt with before.’ This is not a new issue, it is a current issue,” Davis told SportsIllustrated.com over the phone on Monday morning.

“You had a player who kneeled and that player is not in the league. When you speak up on the issue that you were standing for, you’re going to get flack for it. But what I’m saying is that all the people that are associated with the NFL…the fans, the media, the players, the coaches, everybody…allowed the conversation to go to the form of the protest, not the issue he was protesting about. The NFL, like any company would do, a company under controversy, you had players responding to a controversial issues…the sponsors leave. They do everything to protest their brand, that’s what all companies do. That’s what all companies do, they respond to their bottom line. The pressure on the league to do something about what Colin Kaepernick was asking for. That’s all Colin wanted to do was put pressure on the issues.”

Davis said he didn’t read the comments to Goodell’s social media release about Floyd’s death.

His, however, concern lies in keeping pressure and voices on the issue that led to Floyd’s death. It is him and others being a voice for Floyd, whose own voice was silenced last week.

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Outspoken on social justice issue including sentencing reform, it is a passionate stance that comes from experience. In college, a 19-year old Davis was arrested for shoplifting and spent three days in jail before his coaches at Arkansas State arranged for the $10,000 bail to get him released.

His faith in God – Davis is an outspoken and adamant Christian – gives him assurance during these troubling times. But he still wants to see changes to the system from top to bottom, including what he says is the targeting of African-American communities by the police and the lack of opportunities for professional and social advancement. It is something that Davis speaks about often and a subject he has touched upon extensively in his book, The Unsuccessful Champion: Finding True Victory in the Midst of Adversity.

His faith has feet to it too. Davis has a line of apparel items and will donate the proceeds of the mask sales from the ‘Man of God’ line to help the families of Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Like Floyd, Arbery is another prominent case of an African-American who lost his life in police custody.

As for Goodell’s response, Davis is cautioning fans not to lose sight of the real issue at hand.

“I think it was a general post like everyone else saying, you know, how sad they were with this and that we all need to work towards fixing it. I would expect there to be a reaction to that, right? You have the NFL who had a player who took a knee specifically about this situation. It’s going to be received a certain type of way because that player isn’t in the league and you could suggest that that player isn’t in the league and took the defendant’s side of this issue,” Davis said.

“And I think you would expect to have that type of a response from people who could saying they’re not being genuine. One thing I can say is that the league has done a lot to bring awareness around social justice issues – to use resources to bring about change. Especially with players who work in these areas to try and fix them, try to bring solutions. I think the NFL, they made the decision to protect their company.

“Not to defend the NFL…I think we the people…the fans and players…are mad because we changed the conversation to whether we should kneel or not. We talked about what the protest should be versus what the protest is for or what he was standing for. We didn’t pay attention to the issue. And the issue is we need to change the way we police in America and that’s the issue he was bringing attention to then. If we take and turn the issue to something else, even now, we’re trying to change the conversation as to how the protests.”