The New Orleans Saints didn't cancel their practice on Thursday, and it was never something they considered. However, they did do something as a team to honor Jacob Blake - wearing his name on their helmets during their training camp session. They certainly weren't the first NFL team to do something, as multiple clubs around the league canceled practices. Other professional leagues such as the NBA, MLB, and WNBA all demonstrated acts that caught the national spotlight in response to what's going on.
"It was just something we decided to do last night to honor him (Jacob Blake)," head coach Sean Payton said in an interview with the media.
“The thing I mentioned last night to the team is I think we have a really good, close locker room. And if they came up with something that they felt they wanted to do, I would support it and I think that there still might be something they wish to do. The idea of just putting his name on everyone's helmet was something that we felt would be appropriate and I think they were for it.”
Payton was asked if this was something new with players have a willingness to use their voice and platform to speak out about things like this, to which he emphasized the importance of everything being more than just football.
“I do not think it is new. I think, certainly, the attention drawn to specifically this topic is new to our season this year and maybe not even our season this year because it has been a few years now. But I think history would tell us that, look, we have seen this before, and I think part of coaching’s teaching them they have a voice and a very powerful one, and certainly understanding that and respecting everyone's voice. Collectively as a team, a lot of things can be done to encourage change and be a part of change. That is part of the teaching element of what we do as coaches never change (never stop coaching), regardless of the level. Whether it is Pop Warner, high school, college or the NFL. It is more than just football.”
Two players, Craig Robertson and Emmanuel Sanders, both highly respected and veteran presences on the Saints, also spoke about how everything came together and their thoughts.
“It came about, (where we) we had a team meeting," Robertson said.
"It was something that was just decided above us, that we were going to wear it, honor him. But that's not our main thing that we're doing. (We’re) Trying to do some other stuff to honor him and honor everything that's going on. Just put a word to it and let everybody know that we're not going to stand for that.”
Robertson was asked a follow-up question regarding having unity and one voice, but respectfully said that he didn't want to speak for everyone in the organization, and that the team and captains were still deciding on what exactly to do. He added that he didn't want to put his own personal thoughts above his teammates, and that they're all pretty focused on the same topic.
Emmanuel Sanders was very vocal during his interview, and called the decision to wear Jacob Blake's name across their helmets a good start.
"But I feel like we got to do more as well," Sanders said.
"And so, Sean Payton, he called a team meeting last night and told us that we were going to put his name on a helmet. He also said that he's open for discussion of anybody bringing any ideas, of trying to do more as well. So I think that we're all going to get together and see if we can do more, do more than that as well, but I think it was a good start.”
Sanders also appeared on The Rich Eisen Show to enlighten fans of the conversations the Saints have had as a team over the past few months following what has transpired with George Floyd. The NFL and NFLPA have also released a joint statement regarding the recent social issues in the country on Thursday afternoon.
"I think it's exhausting for me to keep having the same conversations over and over and over, and really not seeing any change, just keeps happening again and again and becomes exhausting," Sanders added.
"Because to be able to even use this platform that us athletes are on. It's amazing, but you keep talking about the same thing. Truthfully, you just want to live in a world or a nation in which you’re not judged by the color of your skin, but by the continuity of character, like Martin Luther King once said. I'm over here talking to you guys and my job’s truthfully to play football, but I have to speak on these issues and I have to talk about these issues and address these issues because, because of the platform that we’re on. And it is a problem in America. I just hope that some type of change comes and I just got off the Rich Eisen show. I just told him how exhausting and draining it is that you put so much energy and so much emotion into it and then you think that change is going to come. Then four or five months later it happens again and again, a year later. And I’m sure in two years you're going to be talking about the same thing over and over. So for me it's like when is it ever going to stop and when is the change actually going to come and I pray it happens from a legislative point or from the government or something. I hope that they're listening and they're trying to make some type of change."