There’s no ignoring the current state of the country. In the middle of a global pandemic, the United States is undergoing a social reckoning centered on race and police brutality. In this week’s episode of Hard Knocks, we saw how the Rams and Chargers reacted to the shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed 29-year-old Black man whom police shot seven times in the back in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 23. In the episode’s opening scene, Rams coach Sean McVay watched video of the shooting on a phone in his office, perplexed at the scene. “Are you kidding me?” McVay kept repeating, with Artis Twyman, Rams senior director of communications, sitting next to him.
Last Wednesday night, August 26, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, one of three Black NFL head coaches, addressed his team over Zoom after the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks decided to not play in their playoff game earlier in the day to call for justice for Blake, accountability for the officers involved, and the Wisconsin state legislature to reconvene. The Bucks’ decision inspired other teams across the sports world to follow suit. Lynn told players that in light of the shooting, players wouldn’t have to practice the following day if they weren’t up for it.
The Chargers were scheduled to scrimmage for the first time in SoFi Stadium that day, and it was scheduled to be aired on NFL Network. Before the mock game, Lynn started an hourlong team meeting, during which Lynn gave players and coaches the opportunity to air their grievances and displeasures with the state of the nation. Lynn told players they wouldn’t take the field “until we get it out.” During the dialogue, Chargers assistants and players stressed the importance of using their platforms to instigate change. “I feel like we can’t miss this,” one player said.
The Chargers ended up canceling practice and were one of nine teams to do so in the wake of the shooting. The team stood behind Lynn as he and a handful of players addressed NFL Network’s broadcast, expressing how committed they are to combating racial injustice.
“We’re not going to be defeated by what’s going on,” Lynn said on the broadcast. “We’re going to keep fighting for what’s right. This team is committed to fighting for a championship and social justice. We just had a team meeting in the locker room right now and we’re not going to scrimmage today. We’re going to do something different. I thought what we did in the locker room in the last hour was 10 times more powerful than what we could have done on the football field today, so that’s where we’re at right now.”
The Rams held a small meeting of players and coaches to discuss whether or not the team should practice too. They ultimately decided that they would. Receiver Robert Woods was shown explaining that if Los Angeles took the day off, the team needed to conduct some type of proactive effort within the community to replace the lost practice. Woods, who is Black, was shown in the following scene standing on the sideline during practice chatting with fellow receiver Cooper Kupp, who is white. The two discussed what steps were necessary to help people comprehend racism and eradicate it. Kupp said that, at this point, “if you don’t understand, you’re choosing not to” before brainstorming ideas for areas the country could reform, such as education and addressing people in positions of power.
The majority of the episode focused on how the Chargers and Rams reacted to the latest notable instance of police brutality. Some of the only straightforward football shown was when Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert had an off practice before bouncing back with a strong outing the following session. The meat of this week’s episode was the NFL’s response to America’s struggles with racism. Players were moved to do what they could.
“We are football players, not politicians,” Chargers special teams coordinator George Stewart said during the team’s meeting. “But it’s up to us to use our damn platforms.”