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Vaccaro Speaks Up About Speaking Out

Titans safety plans to keep the conversation -- and his actions -- focused on social issues, equality throughout the 2020 NFL season.

NASHVILLE – Kenny Vaccaro is still a football player. Just don’t ask him about the game.

The Tennessee Titans safety said Friday that he intends to speak only about more serious matters this season, given the nature of current events and that the professional sports world attracts the attention that it does.

“There’s not too many Martin Luther Kings or Malcolm X. People, young kids look up to athletes now,” Vaccaro said. “That’s their heroes. That’s their superheroes. And people can say, ‘Shut up and dribble’ or ‘Stick to sports.’ But at the same time, enough is enough. And that’s just how I feel.

“… In light of recent events that are happening around the country, I just think for me and my platform, my duty is speak out on the things that are happening. That’s just my stance.”

The Titans canceled their practice and altered the nature of their regularly scheduled meetings Thursday so that players and coaches could discuss issues related to racial inequality through their personal experiences and interactions. The decision was motivated by the response of other professional athletes, teams and leagues to the death of Jacob Blake, who died after he was shot seven times in the back by Kenosha, Wisc. police. The entire roster delivered a message through safety Kevin Byard and Ryan Tannehill, who served as spokesmen.

It was not meant to be a step back to evaluate the current state of race relations in the U.S. It was intended to be the first step of many in which team members serve as an impetus for change.

“We talked together, and we talked about different things we could do – maybe on our off days – to show action, to show we really want change and we’re not just talking about it,” Vaccaro said. “Cancelling a practice … we didn’t do that because we didn’t want to ball out. We did that because we felt it was only right that we sat down and talked all the different emotions that everybody was going through with the team, make sure that we respected everybody and make sure, really, everybody knows that we’re a family, that our football team needs to be a shining light to the outside world [on] how it needs to be done, how people need to be treated.”

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Vaccaro is the product of a mixed marriage and a father of two young children but noted that he has no choice but to identify as a black man. That shapes how he plans to deal people from this point forward, whether it is on a Zoom call with media who cover the team or through encounters – planned or impromptu – in the community.

“I know for me, the next step is taking action, getting into communities, being a shining light and example,” Vaccaro said. “Not just a hashtag. Not just a black square that everybody posted on Instagram and thought that meant something. Not making this a movement but making it a lifestyle.”

Vaccaro is a seven-year veteran who has been with the Titans for the past two seasons. A first-round pick (15th overall) by New Orleans in 2013, he has started 96 of 97 games he has played in his career. In 2019, he made more than 100 tackles for the third time (104) and intercepted at least one pass for the fourth straight season.

That part of his life won’t change, he noted. It is just what he does with the platform his profession provides.

“When I’m in the building, I’m locked in,” Vaccaro said. “I’m focused on my daily routine because football is football. But at the end of the day when I step out those doors, I consider myself a black man. I consider myself having a responsibility to speak up.

“… The best thing we can do is influence our youth. It’s not going to happen in my lifetime. But my (children), they’re going to think different. I want that generation to understand how life needs to be. So, I think it’s our duty as young men and women just to change the next generation.”

To that end, he plans to speak only to the subject at hand.