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Bills players organize day of service to address protest criticisms

After seeing the NFL protests become a heated topic, Lorenzo Alexander and Mike Tolbert wanted to show the Bills players do more than just kneel.

The duo decided to work with the team's community relations team to orchestrate a day of five community events to benefit Buffalo youth. Over 30 Bills volunteered and chose the location they'd like to visit.

"It's something we wanted to do to show the community, show the world we're not just about the show," Tolbert said. "We're actually putting in the work."

The Bills volunteering in the community is nothing new, but the scope of Tuesday's events is unusual. Alexander and Tolbert said it was important for a public showing of service to bring the players' narrative back to social injustice and away from dishonoring the flag. Both players knelt during the anthem this season.

"Those people are automatically going to put their blinders up because they disagree with how we went about bringing the awareness," Alexander said. "Ultimately it may come down to sitting down with someone like myself or somebody that has similar experiences and really having an open conversation."

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Alexander announced the day's schedule and addressed the protests in a Twitter post Monday night.

"Playing in the NFL has afforded players a platform to raise awareness for many issues," Alexander wrote. "Over the past year and a half, our team has utilized the national anthem as an opportunity to protest to bring attention about the racial and social inequalities plaguing our nation.

"These protests have not been about our military nor or our allegiance and appreciation for our country's principles and privileges, but to start a conversation to begin the process of understanding, equality and love."

The team's visits started with the Belle Center and Northwest Buffalo Community Center, where players played handball and participated in arts and crafts. Players met with basketball players at the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Hope Center and Hennepin Community Center.

"Growing up as a child, I was these kids," Tolbert said. "I was at the Boys and Girls Club, I was at the park wishing someone would come see me."

Buffalo Bills Eric Wood signs an autograph for Ian Cameron during a family fun night with games and activities for children with pediatric cancer at the ADPRO Sports Training Center at One Bills Drive on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)


The afternoon also included a "fun night" at the ADPRO Sports Training Center for children with pediatric cancer and their families. It's part of the NFL's Crucial Catch expanded cancer awareness outreach, as the league has extended its traditional Breast Cancer Awareness Month to feature all types of cancer.

Coincidentally, the Bills' events took place on the same day owners and players met in New York to discuss players speaking out on social issues. Kim Pegula was in attendance.

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Alexander said he hopes the day isn't just a feel-good moment. His goal is to create relationships and have a long-term impact. In addition to appearances, Alexander said the Bills plan to meet with public and political officials to see how the players can help improve legislation that causes the inequality they've protested this season.

"I want to be able to meet with some community leaders here and actually dive into what the issues are," Alexander said. "Then we start devising a plan. ... These are the issues, how do we start moving in a positive direction?"

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