|Carolina Panthers players embrace advocacy for social justice cause|
|LB Shaq Thompson leads drive for equality|
|Published Friday, June 5, 2020 8:00 pm|
|PHOTO | CAROLINA PANTHERS|
|Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson (54) has taken on a larger leadership role on the field as well as off in his advocacy for racial justice.|
Thompson reached out to his teammates on June 1, asking if they would participate in a justice walk in Dilworth and Myers Park for George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Marchers were instructed to meet at 6 p.m. by the Freedom Park tennis courts. Safety Tre Boston, linebackers Thompson and Andre Smith, and tight ends Chris Manhertz and Ian Thomas participated.
“I have no idea what went into the planning,” Smith said. “Shaq FaceTimed me right before the team meeting and was like, ‘hey, you going to come out here at 6 p.m.?’ I was like, ‘what are you talking about?’ He said, ‘I just posted this flyer, the protest and everything.’ I was like, ‘yeah, I’ll be there.’
Thompson was in his second NFL season when Keith Scott was fatally shot by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police in 2016. Jerry Richardson owned the Panthers at the time and none of the players spoke out as a week of protests roiled the city while NFL owners backed a rule that allowed teams to punish sideline protests while the national anthem played. David Tepper, who bought the Panthers in 2018, and head coach Matt Rhule have spoken with players encouraging them to use their voices for change.
“I really didn’t have a speaking relationship with Mr. Richardson, but what I can tell you is Mr. Tepper called me a few days ago, and pretty much offered support and pretty much empathized and acknowledged that there’s a lot of things that need to be fixed in the society that we live in,” Manhertz said. “Having the owner of the organization personally call you and have a conversation about it, I think that speaks volumes to the person he is and the organization that the Panthers is as well.”
Thompson, who replaces the recently retired Luke Kuechly as leader of the linebacker corps, is now Carolina’s social justice leader according to teammates, a role formerly held by safety Eric Reid and receiver Torrey Smith.
“When I joined the team, we had a lot of veterans,” Smith said. “We probably had the oldest team in the NFL. We had [Julius] Peppers, who was doing a lot in his hometown in Bailey, North Carolina. You had Thomas Davis who did everything—Walter Payton Man of the Year. When you have those people to look up to and you see how they are obviously still dedicated to their craft, why should I sit here with my hands in my pockets and not do anything? Shaq has definitely emerged as a social justice leader on our team. I think it’s great for the rookies to see that.”
Said Manhertz: “There’s several ways to lead. You could also lead by example. Sometimes you don’t have to force anybody to do certain things, but just your presence alone, and being an example, some players, especially younger players might look at that and say, ‘hey, I’m on board as well.’”
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