Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel appeared on the Zoom screen just a few minutes after quarterback Ryan Tannehill and safety Kevin Byad issued heartfelt statements on police, racism and inequality.
Vrabel said he was thinking about his team when he went to bed Wednesday night. And when he woke up the next morning, what was on his mind had not changed.
Thursday, he said, was all about listening to what his players had to say. Everyone knew that football had no place. The Xs and Os and the gameplans could wait, even with the regular season drawing near.
“I wanted to hear and understand how they were feeling,” Vrabel said, “so that I can help them in what their next plan of attack was. I allowed everyone to talk … great messages. We felt it was best that we spend a day focusing on things other than football.”
The Titans -- and other professional sports teams – felt compelled to take big first steps toward making the world a better place for all. Jacob Blake’s death at the hands of Kenosha, Wisc. police officers this week sparked a wave of reaction across the sports world, including the cancellation or postponement of games in multiple professional leagues Wednesday.
The Titans, according to Vrabel, plan to focus on three things. Those were: registering to vote, pushing to have conversations with elected officials and community outreach to youth in Middle Tennessee.
The upcoming Nov. 3 election could be the most pivotal in America’s history. Republican President Donald Trump will be challenged by Democratic candidate Joe Biden. In addition, all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate, will be at stake.
Vrabel wanted his players to leave the building ready to vote.
“We're going to ensure that when everyone leaves today, we’re going to be registered voters,” Vrabel said. “We will continue our education relationship with I am a voter, a bipartisan organization that believes democracy works best when everyone is involved.
“The last piece of education is obviously participation, which comes on Nov. 3, a Tuesday. Every coach and player, regardless of treatment or what their schedule is, will have an opportunity to vote.”
While the November election will surely shape the county for at least four years, it’s not the only way to make an impact.
Speaking with local elected officials in Nashville and Middle Tennessee is also a point of emphasis for the team. Vrabel preached responding, not reacting.
“... Maybe we can understand their protocols, their policies, and they can understand our feelings and fears that we have,” he said.
Last and most importantly, Vrabel said the organization will strive to educate Middle Tennessee’s youth. He wants his players to teach and recreate the atmosphere the Titans have in their building. Love, respect, hard work, compassion, communication, equality and accountability will be the lessons.
“I don't think that we're going to sit there and try to change everybody,” Vrabel said. “That's why we focused, and that's why our team wants to focus on the children and the youth in Middle Tennessee, that can understand and can look at somebody and say, 'You know what, why is it important for me to be on a team? Why is it important for me to be on a team with players or people that may not look like me, that are raised by their grandmother or maybe raised by their mom?’ Or maybe, ‘It's OK that you don't have the nicest shoes. It's the value that you bring to the team, is how you should be treated.’”
So, there was no football at Saint Thomas Sports Park on Thursday. Vrabel did not say if there would be any Friday either.
At such a pivotal time in the nation’s history, it doesn’t matter. Righting hundreds of wrongs is. And sports, which usually act as distractions amid trying times, collectively felt the need to be a part of that.
Everything on the field can wait.
“I didn't reach out to anybody personally around the league to find out what they were doing because I wanted to be real,” Vrabel said. “I wanted to be authentic and that's what we got, and I told the players that. I told the players that I met with early that I want this to be authentic.
“I don't want this to be made up or scripted, and that's exactly what we got and so we're going to focus on how we improve, and the impact that we can make, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.”