One by one, they told their stories. Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan said his mother used to kiss him on the forehead every day when he went to school, fearful he’d never make it back to her. He didn’t understand why until he had kids of his own.
Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks talked about coping skills he learned early in life: feeling he was viewed as a threat as a “larger black kid,” he insisted on putting people at ease.
They were frustrated and angry, nuanced and vulnerable. And they wondered what would happen if they — like those around the country have done in the wake of the George Floyd killing — would protest.
It’s been almost four years years since then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first kneeled during the national anthem to protest police violence and racial inequality. And three years since he was blackballed.
“Same thing that is happening today was happening three years ago — let’s just be honest,” Trevathan said. “When you have people that have been through so much, you get built up. There are different stages of emotion. There are different stages of anger. You can only take so much just to want to be heard, just to want to be seen, just to want to be felt.”
If the Bears want to be felt in Week 1, would they protest the way Kaepernick did?
Asked Wednesday whether he’d support player protests, coach Matt Nagy demurred, saying he wants them to unite in whatever they do. Asked whether he’d support individual players in the likely case unanimity isn’t found among the 53-man roster, Nagy refused to say.
“I think for whatever we end up doing together, it will be just that,” he said.
That’s what Nagy did in his first-ever Bears game — and the first since the league passed a controversial anthem policy that it would eventually not enforce after NFLPA pushback. The Bears decided to link arms for the 2018 Hall of Fame Game, the way they did under John Fox. No Bears player has ever kneeled.
Four months earlier, owners approved a policy requiring players to stand for the anthem if on the field — or stay in the locker room. There was no formal vote, though Bears chairman George McCaskey said he would have voted for the change.
“We think players should stand,” he said then.
McCaskey also defended the players who didn’t, calling their concerns about police misconduct and social inequality “legitimate” and saying that accusations of kneelers being unpatriotic “is not, and never was, the case.” He and the Bears have since established a social justice committee and raised funds for local groups working in the field. Nagy said they’re focused on making even more proactive moves.
If NFL protests return this fall, President Donald Trump will undoubtedly use the NFL as a political football, bending the narrative with elections two months away. He has, and will, argue against what Kaepernick and others have long maintained: that the protest isn’t to disrespect America — or the flag or the troops — but to make it better.
That same argument flared up Wednesday, when Bears receiver Allen Robinson reacted on Twitter to Saints quarterback Drew Brees saying that kneeling was disrespecting the flag.
“So tragic that the narrative, yet again, is being hijacked,” Robinson wrote.
NFL officials would likely tolerate players kneeling more than they did in the past, Robinson said earlier in the day.
“I think that could possibly be something that would just kind of show the unity of the league and teams acknowledging the wrong that they had with [Kaepernick], and just how that kind of whole situation went down,” he said. “But is that the exact cause of action? I’m not 100 percent sure.”
Hicks, meanwhile, wants to take the next step.
“I want to see something bigger, different,” he said. “That already turned out negatively, and we understood what [Kaepernick] meant by it.
“I will say this: let’s make the situation better. I’ll choose change over having to take another knee.”