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Inside the Bills: Social justice messages players and coaches will share Sunday

Inside the Bills: Social justice messages players and coaches will share Sunday

Buffalo Bills practice, Sept. 9

Bills head coach Sean McDermott will wear a decal on the side of his hat Sunday that says "It Takes All Of Us."

Before the start of the 2020 NFL season Thursday night, members of the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans came together at midfield and locked arms.

The public-address announcer asked for a moment of silence “dedicated to the ongoing fight for equality in our country.” Sporadic boos could be heard from the limited crowd allowed into Arrowhead Stadium during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic – a puzzling reaction to a call for unity.

In the end zones, “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism” were painted, as they are expected to be for all games this weekend. For a league that once distanced itself from former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick after he knelt during the national anthem as a way of protesting racial injustice and police brutality against Black people, the message Thursday was clear: The NFL is no longer afraid of backlash from fans.

“I think it's a great thing. It's bigger than football sometimes,” Bills defensive end Mario Addison said Friday. “I'm glad those two teams agreed upon before the game and that happening to show them that 'we're all in this together.' "

It remains to be seen what the Bills and New York Jets will do Sunday before their season opener at Bills Stadium. It could look something like what the Chiefs or Texans did, or it might take shape in a different way. Addison, though, made it clear that the team will be united in whatever it decides.

“When we do something, it's going to be together as a team,” he said. “The message we're trying to get out is, we want every person to be treated equal, no matter what color your skin is. If we can get that message through to everybody, the world will be a better place.”

Bills coach Sean McDermott said he planned to meet with his team captains – Josh Allen, Dion Dawkins, Andre Roberts, Tremaine Edmunds, Jordan Poyer, Reid Ferguson and Jerry Hughes – to discuss what the team’s approach will be.

"I usually meet the captains every week and we'll talk about that as we move forward in the day or two leading up to the game, as we are, but nothing at this point,” McDermott said of specific plans. “But that does not mean that that's going to stay that way. At this point, all good conversations and all heading in the right direction.”

The NFL will allow coaches and players to wear decals on their helmets this season that bear the name or initials of victims of police brutality or one of four approved league phrases: “Stop Hate, It Takes All Of Us, End Racism, or Black Lives Matter.”

Nearly 40 members of the Bills’ active roster plan to take part, The Buffalo News has learned, as do 11 members of the coaching staff. That includes McDermott, who will wear a decal on the side of his hat that says “It Takes All Of Us.”

“I thought it was great to see that everyone is together on this,” McDermott said of the Chiefs and Texans joint decision. “I thought it was very well thought-out and good to see the coaches out there and the staffs, as well, joining with the players. It's an interesting time, because you spend all week trying to beat one another and to have that opportunity to do that, just from a mental shift standpoint is not easy, I can tell you that as a competitor. But in this case it was good to watch.”

In McDermott’s first season as head coach, several members of the Bills took a knee during the national anthem before a game against the Denver Broncos in September 2017. That came after President Trump made inflammatory comments about Kaepernick.

On Thursday, Texans players were not on the field for the national anthem or for “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black national anthem, which will be played at all games this weekend. The Chiefs were on the field for both, and defensive end Alex Okafor took a knee for the "Star Spangled Banner."

Nationwide protests followed the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota in May. The Bills have not been immune to what’s gone on in the country since then, and the fight for equality has been deeply personal for many players.

“We've had those critical conversations over the course of the last couple weeks,” McDermott said. “Really proud of the players and the decisions they are formulating. I'm most proud of the fact at the action that's being taken at the player level, at the club level, within our organization. To do some of the things that we've set out to do, in a positive way impacting our community.”

Earlier this week, it was announced that Bills players will donate a portion of their games checks from Week 1 to help fund three specific priorities: Delivering Internet access to about 5,000 students and teachers in the Buffalo Public Schools who currently do not have it and encouraging individuals to complete the 2020 Census and becoming registered to vote.

“I think it's tremendous that they are following through, as well as the organization is following through in that regard,” McDermott said.

Dawkins said it has been difficult to toe the line between preparing for a season and using his voice as a professional athlete to fight for change.

“It's definitely difficult, because you want to let your presence be felt, but you also don't want to make a big distraction,” he said. “It can drastically change a person mentally. It's definitely difficult, but, everybody is their own person. Hopefully they choose their battles wisely.”

As for the message Dawkins hopes comes across Sunday, he offered the following: “I honestly think that if people just understand that we're better together than apart, then that's really all that needs to be said. If the Buffalo Bills can can treat … everybody in the building the same way, then the world should just sees that and just try to attempt to love on one another and not be afraid to open up and be vulnerable. Honestly, just to have a big heart and show it. Most men, like, want to be macho guys and all tough, but when you show what your true colors (are), there's so much room for growth. I honestly think that if everybody just stays together and we're unified, then this will be a beautiful place.”

Taking a Stand

Bills players will wear a social justice message or name on the back of their helmets. Bills coaches will wear a decal on their hats. Individuals were allowed to select a victim's name or one of four pre-approved phrases from the league. 

Player / CoachWording
Mario AddisonIt Takes All of Us
Josh AllenIt Takes All of Us
Tyler BassBlack Lives Matter
Ryan BassIt Takes All of Us
Ike BoettgerIt Takes All of Us
John BrownBlack Lives Matter
Vernon ButlerBreonna Taylor
Dion DawkinsElijah McClain
Tyrel DodsonStop Hate
Tremaine EdmundsBlack Lives Matter
AJ EpenesaBlack Lives Matter
Jon FelicianoEnd Racism
Cody FordAlton Sterling
Jake FrommIt Takes All of Us
Reggie GilliamBlack Lives Matter
Jerry HughesBlack Lives Matter
Micah HydeIt Takes All of Us
Quinton JeffersonAntwon Rose
Taron JohnsonStephon Clark
Taiwan JonesFred Hampton
Dawson KnoxStop Hate
Tyler KroftEnd Racism
Matt MilanoStop Hate
Mitch MorseStop Hate
Zack MossIt Takes All of Us
  
Siran NealBlack Lives Matter
Josh NormanEnd Racism
Ty NsekheBreonna Taylor
Ed OliverBlack Lives Matter
Del'Shawn PhillipsIt Takes All of Us
Harrison PhillipsIt Takes All of Us
Jordan PoyerIt Takes All of Us
Devin SingletaryStop Hate
Quinton SpainBlack Lives Matter
Levi WallaceAhmaud Arbery
Tre'Davious WhiteBlack Lives Matter
Daryl WilliamsBreonna Taylor
Evan BoehmIt Takes All of Us
Bryan Cox Jr.Breonna Taylor
Jason CroomIt Takes All of Us
Dane JacksonIt Takes All of Us
Michael LoveEnd Racism
Joshua ThomasGeorge Floyd
Christian WadeGeorge Floyd
Justin ZimmerBlack Lives Matter
Bobby BabichStop Hate
Rob BorasEnd Racism
Brian DabollStop Hate
Leslie FrazierIt Takes All of Us
Chad HallStop Hate
Terry HeffernanBlack Lives Matter
Bobby JohnsonBreonna Taylor
Marc LubickGeorge Floyd
Sean McDermottIt Takes All of Us
Kelly SkipperBlack Lives Matter
Eric WashingtonBreonna Taylor / George Floyd

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News Sports Reporter

I started at The Buffalo News in 2009, and have previously been honored as one of the top 10 beat writers in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors for my coverage of the Bills. I live in Amherst with my wife, Melissa, and son, Elliott.

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Last Thursday night, Buffalo Bills owners Kim and Terry Pegula hosted an emotional company-wide “town hall” meeting on Zoom in which several of the organization’s prominent black employees were encouraged to address the group. Those who spoke included defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, defensive end Jerry Hughes, retired linebacker Lorenzo Alexander and director of player engagement and alumni Marlon Kerner,

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