How the Panthers Organization has Supported Its Player's to Combat Racial Injustice

Jack Duffy

Andre Smith, Chris Manhertz, and Stephen Weatherly all addressed the media Thursday afternoon to discuss topics surrounding systemic racism following the death of George Floyd. All three are part of the Panthers’ Player Impact Committee which is a group of players seeking to create positive change and address social justice issues impacting underserved communities in North and South Carolina.

On Monday, Smith, Manhertz, and a few other players from the Player Impact Committee - that included Shaq Thompson, Tre Boston, and Ian Thomas - all participated in the justice walk in Charlotte.

The climate in the NFL has drastically changed over the past few years in regards to players publicly addressing issues of racial injustice. Previously, players felt pressured internally to stay quiet and focus on football rather than use their platforms to shine a light on important social issues that desperately needed attention. Stephen Weatherly explained Thursday that he used to feel like he had to choose between being a football player or being a black man. Now, he can do both and much of it has to do with being supported by the ownership - which he was last year in Minnesota and now this year with David Tepper in Carolina.

"I don't have to choose anymore — I can be both (black and a football player)," Weatherly said. "I can go out and get these numbers on the field and do what I can to help bring back a championship, but then also express my grievances as a black man. Neither of those two should interfere with the other, and it feels good and allows me to play free or allows me to play less stressed — which in turn makes me a better football player."

Panthers owner David Tepper individually called both Andre Smith and Chris Manhertz this week to support them in their fight to combat racial injustice in this country, telling them that their fight should not stop anytime soon but continue well into the future.

"David Tepper, the team owner, called me and was just telling me how much he supports us, and he wants us to stay safe, and how important it was for us to keep this movement going even after all the hype dies down," Smith said. "I really appreciate that. For him, one, just calling me - the team owner calling me is pretty cool. But I have an appreciation for his understanding - again, just knowing that it is a tough time."

Chris Manhertz felt similar support from Tepper who expressed immense empathy along with acknowledging how critical this time is for them to use their platforms for good.

"Mr. Tepper called me as well a few days ago and pretty much offered support, and pretty much empathized and acknowledged that there's a lot of things that need to be fixed in the society that we live in," Manhertz said. "Having the owner of the organization personally call you and having a conversation about it, I think that speaks volumes to the person he is and the organization that the Panthers is as well."

On Wednesday, Matt Rhule addressed the media and explained that he spoke with his team this week where he offered his full and unconditional support. He highlighted the pressing issues and acknowledged that there are elements of racism that he will never fully understand as a white man. 

"So many of us know that overt racism is easy to spot," Rhule said Wednesday. "We see it and we know that it's wrong, we know that it's hateful, we say, 'Hey, I don't feel that way.' But what's gripping our country is systemic racism, and to me, it must be rooted out at every turn. That's all of our jobs - to admit that we do see color, we do see differences, to not sit there and say we don't see that. It's there and our society needs all of us - all of us at every turn - to root it out."

It is obvious he stands hand-in-hand with his players and wants them to be able freely to express themselves and utilize the tremendous platform each possesses as professional athletes. Rhule made it very clear that he respects their voices and was there to listen to them and help in any way possible. 

"I hear my guys saying that there's an issue and that there's a problem and that it's deeply, deeply, deeply affecting them," Rhule said. "I want to have a team full of men that knows their purpose in life is not just to play football."

On Thursday, Andre Smith, Chris Manhertz, and Stephen Weatherly all agreed that they felt supported by the entire Panthers’ organization including their head coach. Yet again, Rhule was described as a player’s coach on Thursday, and someone his players know will go to battle for them both on and off the field.

"Coach Rhule, he did a great job as well,” Smith explained. “He gave us the freedom. He said post however you feel, protest peacefully, be safe. So as far as the staff goes, I couldn't be any more thankful for how they've handled this."

Before Smith was finished speaking to the media, he wanted to give a message to the public to express that he - along with the Panthers’ organization - is united in fighting for justice.

"I really want the people to know that we as athletes, we as Panthers, as professional athletes - we are with you," Smith said. "I want them to know that as a professional athlete, me - Andre Smith - I completely understand the situation. I'm right there along with you fighting the good fight, and I'm not afraid to use my voice or my platform to speak out."

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