The NFL announced Sunday’s game in Charlotte between the Vikings and the Carolina Panthers will go on as scheduled despite the violent protests in North Carolina’s largest city.
But the nation’s latest police shooting and the ensuing carnage there had some Vikings players, at least for a few minutes, worrying about something other than stopping Cam Newton’s designed QB keepers or finding holes in Carolina’s zone coverages.
Terence Newman was standing at his locker at Winter Park when a pair of reporters approached him to ask him if he was paying attention to the unrest in Charlotte.
“Of course I do. I pay attention to what’s going on everywhere,” the 38-year-old cornerback said. “What about you? What are your thoughts on what’s going on?”
Over the next 12 minutes, Newman spoke openly about race, violence and the current state of affairs in the United States. He was often the one asking the questions.
“What about the unarmed civilians being killed?” Newman asked at one point, mentioning the local police shooting of Philando Castile this summer, which led to protests in the Twin Cities. “Do you think we have a problem? Do you think something needs to be done? Do you think there is definitely violence against black people from police?”
Vikings players, for the most part, have remained publicly silent about social issues nationwide and the recent controversy surrounding San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others protesting during the national anthem. Perhaps that is, Newman suggested, because the players have not often been asked for their opinions.
“You guys come in here every day … and nobody asks about the situation. So what does that say?” Newman said. “You guys have just as much influence as we do. Are you guys scared to say something? Are you guys scared to put your feelings out there?”
Newman was asking pointed questions, but at no point was he antagonistic. He said he had just been talking about the same social issues with some of his teammates.
“We’re all like brothers. There’s white guys talking about the situation. There’s black guys talking about the situation. We’re all in it together, so for us it’s easy,” he said. “But when you [leave Winter Park], you’re just a somebody. … Here, we know we’re protected. Anywhere else … who knows what violence is going to happen?”
The shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old black man, has sent Charlotte into turmoil this week. Police said Scott had a gun in his hand while getting out of a car and threatened police officers. Family members said Scott was disabled and was reading a book while waiting to pick up his son from the school bus.
Protesting from demonstrators escalated to violence. Amid the chaos Wednesday, another man was shot, reportedly by another civilian. Heavy damage was reported in the University City section of Charlotte, and then later in the city’s Uptown section, which is a popular nightlife and cultural center.
Linebacker Edmond Robinson said the violence in Charlotte reminds him of what happened in Charleston, S.C., after a white gunman opened fire inside of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Robinson’s mother was a pastoral intern at the church but was not there the night of the shooting that left nine dead.
“It kind of brings back bad memories from Charleston, even though I don’t think Charleston rioted the way Charlotte is,” Robinson said. “I just hope the city comes together, similar to what Charleston did to get back on track. … I just hope they can get it together and understand that we need to bring it back together.”
He condemned the violence, imploring protesters to do it “in a more positive way.”
Defensive tackle Tom Johnson agreed with Robinson, though he understands why many in Charlotte and across the country are frustrated. After all, Minneapolis police in 2014 used chemical spray and a stun gun to subdue Johnson during an arrest in downtown Minneapolis. All charges against him were eventually dropped and he has since filed a civil suit against two officers for a variety of civil rights violations.
“They’re tired of seeing it happen over and over again,” Johnson said. “It’s just one of those unfortunate things. It makes you be conscious of what’s actually going on.”
Once the Vikings hit the practice field Thursday afternoon, the focus went back to the Panthers, the reigning NFC champions. The NFL said that morning in a statement that Sunday’s game was still on, though that could change if the violence continues to escalate.
The NFL previously opted not to move or postpone a St. Louis Rams game during the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., following a police shooting there in August 2014.
Major League Baseball postponed two games between the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox before playing one with no fans inside Camden Yards during the riots in Baltimore last year following the death of a man who was in police custody. The Orioles’ next home series against the Tampa Bay Rays was then moved to Florida.
“We’re in a way, way worse spot than we were in 2003. I can guarantee you that,” Newman said. “And it seems like it takes a national tragedy to happen before people actually start to come together — the bombing at the [Boston] Marathon, 9/11. Things happen like that and people always want to be unified. And now we’re getting away from the unity.”
Staff writer Andrew Krammer contributed to this story.