EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants' laser focus on preparing for their 2020 season has not precluded them from staying immersed in the real world issues in their local area and throughout the United States.
Perhaps foremost in their consciousness is the shooting Sunday of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot in the back by Kenosha, Wis. police officers. Blake's three young children were in the car he stood next to when he was hit.
The Giants delayed the beginning of their practice today so the players and coaches could discuss among themselves some of the vital social justice issues roiling the country.
"We had some important matters to talk about as a team," Coach Joe Judge said. "We weren't going to cut those short, so I made sure we took the time to approach what we had to.
"It was social injustice. We wanted to give our players time. This wasn't a distraction by any means, but it's a conversation we wanted to make sure we had as a team. There are some things that are very important within the locker room and the culture and making sure the players understand that… Look, we're concerned about them. They're concerned about us as coaches as well."
The practice delay occurred just hours after the Giants organization announced its "#TogetherBlue" campaign for the 2020 season, which in addition to football-related issues, extends into the community as part of the Giants' commitment to pursue sustained change, specifically in areas of social justice. The Giants have partnered with organizations with a focus toward racial injustice, criminal justice reform, education and economic advancement, police-community relations and voter registration.
"I'm very proud of our team and how they've interacted," Judge said. "We talked a lot back in the spring. We're not revealing everything we're doing internally as a team, but I will say that our guys are very active in the community. Very active as far as getting out there and making a difference. Obviously, we talk about a lot of the issues around the country on a lot of different levels. One thing we decided as a team is we're not really a bunch of talkers. That's not really our personality. There's a lot of people making statements out there, putting blanket things out there. We talked early in the process that it's okay to say something, but you have to back it up. Before we started going out there and making a bunch of blanket statements, we're going to be in a position where we're making a difference and we're helping people in their everyday lives."
Defensive tackle Leonard Williams said the team has discussed current events as a group "even before" the Blake shooting.
"Since the George Floyd incident when all the rioting and stuff like that was going on, us as a team wanted to focus on coming together and being more involved in our communities," Williams said. "Seeing how we can help in a situation like this with our platforms that we have been given. We obviously have influence on the world. Being on a team where people come from so many different backgrounds, we kind of show that people can come together and focus toward a goal. Focus toward something positive no matter where you came from or what background you come from."
Giants players and coaches have split themselves into nine teams and each team has paired with an organization in a dedicated region within New York and New Jersey. After several conversations regarding the issues that most affect the residents of those areas, the teams selected initiatives and will work alongside their community partner.
The nine organizations the team has partnered with and their areas of focus:
- United Way of NYC – Partnering with UWNYC's EducateNYC program to support educational equity in Brownsville (Brooklyn).
- Far Rockaway Colts (NYPD) – Teaming up with the Far Rockaway Colts and the NYPD to improve police-community relations and education through football in Queens.
- New York City Police Foundation – Partnering to create positive relationships with youth throughout Manhattan.
- RISE – Supporting RISE in their mission to increase civic engagement by spreading the word about voter rights, registration and education in Staten Island, N.Y.
- Bronx Defenders – Partnering together to transform how low-income people are represented in the justice system and transforming the system itself.
- Eva's Village – Joining forces to personally mentor Eva's clients experiencing poverty and substance use disorders in Paterson, N.J.
- East Orange Mayor's Office – Partnering with the Mayor's office of East Orange, N.J. to support the public schools and families in need.
- My Sisters' Place – Partnering with My Sisters' Place and the Mt. Vernon (N.Y.) High School Football team to promote racial equity in education.
- Covenant House – Joining forces with Covenant House New Jersey located in Newark to support homeless youth through education, employment and financial literacy.
The Giants are determined to be influential voices in the quest for justice.
"Something we did as a team was, we split up into different groups and focused on all the different boroughs in New York," Williams said. "Something in my group that we have been focusing on is police reform and trying to build relationships between officers and the community and stuff like that. It's definitely a work in progress and it's been even harder because of the coronavirus. We can't really be in person with anybody right now. It's mostly Zoom calls. I think this is a big issue going on right now and it's been a big issue for the last 400 years. I think it's definitely time for some change."
"We allowed the players to really pinpoint some issues and some organizations that they wanted to work with," Judge said. "We have nine different teams. We call it the Team of Teams project. They are split up and they work in different areas, New York City, North Jersey. They work with different organizations. We allowed them to pick the initiative that they wanted to work with. They've gone full speed ahead. We dedicate time on Mondays and Wednesdays to these initiatives, being in touch with these organizations. It gives our players time to make sure we're organized. Our community relations department does a tremendous job of really setting the table for our guys during training camp so they could go ahead and stay active and stay moving."
Athletes throughout professional sports continue to demand that their social justice voices be heard. The Detroit Lions yesterday canceled practice in protest of the shooting of Blake.
For the same reason, the NBA postponed all three of its playoff games scheduled for today after the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their game against the Orlando Magic. The league's players have scheduled a meeting for tonight amid speculation they will force the cancellation of the entire postseason.
The Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds also agreed to not take the field tonight for their scheduled game in protest of the shooting.
The Giants chose not to make a similar statement.
"We've had a big discussion as a team," Williams said. "Not about that specifically but something that we've all thought about as team is that we wouldn't want to take away opportunities from guys trying to make the team. There is already less opportunity for them without preseason right now. It would be kind of hard for them to not be seen if we're taking away even more without them having preseason. It's kind of a hard dilemma with that going on. We definitely saw what happened with Detroit and we were inspired by it. We want to do something about it and something similar to it. I think that's the reason why I also wanted to share what we have been doing as a team in our community. Hopefully, the 31 other teams in the country would want to focus on their communities that they are playing in as well. Just bring more awareness and bring more effort into our communities and the police."
"These are things that we're going to continue throughout the season as well as seasons to come," Judge said. "This is not a short-term project for us. This is not something we wanted to do to check a box and say, 'Okay, we were involved in that, remember how neat that was?' We want to actually do something involving this community. From the time I took this job, it was very important for me to express to the Mara and Tisch families and to the team that it's our responsibility to be connected to this community. The people who show us support, we have to get out there and give them actual support. We plan on building a top-level football team with the right culture. But we plan on being pillars in this community for a long time to come."
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