Image via Tori Petry (@sportstori)

The Detroit Lions canceled practice at their Allen Park, Michigan headquarters on Tuesday afternoon. But the players didn’t put football on hold for fatigue or safety concerns. This was about social justice and they had something to say.

Word circulated among the reporters covering the Lions around 1 p.m. ET that practice was canceled and it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t related to COVID-19, safety concerns, or something football-related.

Minutes later, as the team (including head coach Matt Patricia) gathered outside the team complex, it was clear that this was regarding the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Sunday.

According to witnesses and reports, Blake, 29, was attempting to break up an argument between two women when police arrived on the scene. As he was entering his SUV with his three sons (ages 3, 5, and 8) waiting inside, an officer fired his gun seven times into the unarmed Blake’s back at point-blank range. The incident happened during daylight and was recorded on cellphone video, which quickly spread online.

The shooting and the civil unrest which followed in Kenosha — along with protests in other cities like Seattle, New York, and Minneapolis — throughout Monday night left football far from the topics of discussion when the Lions reported for practice Tuesday morning. As reported by the Detroit Free Press‘ Dave Birkett, practice kept getting pushed back as players voiced their outrage and concerns during team meetings.

Duron Harmon was among the players who addressed the media gathered outside the team complex, followed by Trey Flowers and Taylor Decker.

Blake’s shooting touched off protests, demonstrations, and unrest in Kenosha Monday and into early Tuesday morning. Police used teargas and fired small beanbags at those causing damage to storefronts and street signs. Local businesses and residences were destroyed by fires and looting, leading to the National Guard being called into the area.

Meanwhile, Blake’s father says his son is currently paralyzed from the waist down, hospitalized in stable condition, due to the shooting.

“We had our team meeting this morning and no football was talked about,” quarterback Matthew Stafford told reporters (via the Free Press). “Coach just opened the floor. The conversations lasted four hours and it was incredible to be a part of it.”

There will be plenty of fans who will criticize the Lions players (and other professional athletes such as LeBron James, who spoke out against the Blake shooting after the Los Angeles Lakers’ playoff game Monday night) for this.

But as the outrage and protests following the George Floyd murder in June made clear, so many people don’t want to be quiet about this. They want change to occur. They want systemic racism to end. They want police brutality against Black people to stop.

With a prominent platform, athletes and celebrities want to use their heightened profile to raise awareness of these issues. It was important for NBA players before agreeing to restart their season in Orlando. Baseball players wanted to make sure that social justice messages were a part of MLB’s opening weekend, as well.

And though the Detroit Lions did this on their own, it shouldn’t be a surprise if more NFL teams follow their lead and use their collective voice in the days and weeks to come as the season approaches.

UPDATE: Several Lions players followed up with messages on social media, including Romeo Okwara, Kerryon Johnson, and Marvin Jones Jr.

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is a writer, editor, and podcaster. You can find his work at Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He's written for Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation.