Ravens LB Matthew Judon: ‘Right Now, It’s Bigger Than Football’

Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon has been one of the team’s most outspoken players regarding social justice and racial equality as a member of the NFL Players Coalition, so Judon took note of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s sort-of-apology video June 5 about how the NFL has handled racial issues in the past.

Judon was not impressed.

“I think we should’ve been questioning why Roger Goodell didn’t say, ‘black lives matter,’ when he was born,” Judon said, “or when he became commissioner, or when he was re-elected commissioner.”

In his video statement, Goodell said, “We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter. I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country.”

“We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier,” Goodell said, “and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”

Of course, it isn’t lost on Judon and others that former quarterback Colin Kaepernick did precisely that and it effectively got him banished from Goodell’s NFL. Goodell’s statement never mentioned Kaepernick by name.

Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem as a form of silent, peaceful protest against police brutality and other racial injustice quickly led to his exit from the league.

Despite 58 career starts and a Super Bowl appearance, Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since 2016, as team owners looked to less accomplished players who were perceived as less of a distraction and less damaging to the bottom line; some fans were enraged by a protest gesture from Kaepernick that they viewed to be an affront to the military or the national flag.

“When [Kaepernick] came out and said, ‘It’s not about the Star-Spangled Banner, it’s not about the song, it’s not about the troops, it’s about how my people are being treated,’ there shouldn’t have been pushback,” Judon said as he met with the media via videoconference June 15. “It should’ve been, ‘OK, let’s help this man and his cause.’”

“That was just his way of expressing it,” Judon continued. “He did it very peacefully. He didn’t make a ruckus about it. He didn’t take pictures of himself. He didn’t publicize it. When he was asked about it, he explained himself in a matter of which people should have understood. … I’m with all the protests that we have to do and all of the progress that we have to make. I’m with all of that, but it’s not because Roger Goodell said, ‘black lives matter.’”

With police brutality and racial injustice again dominating headlines in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in the custody of Minneapolis police and other police-involved killings that have led to nationwide protests, the anthem issue figures to be a hot-button issue again this season.

The Ravens infuriated a sizable portion of their fan base when players took a knee to support Kaepernick before the team’s game in London against the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017, and the gesture, repeated throughout the league that weekend, drew the ire of President Trump.

Trump remains vocally opposed to that form of protest, tweeting June 5: “We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag – NO KNEELING!”

Asked about the Ravens’ plans for the national anthem this fall, Judon said no decisions have been made but said the players have been having “deep conversations about this, because that’s real life for all of us. … We want to put an end to racism, whether that will be on the football field, or in classrooms, or wherever it may be. There’s really no room for it in today’s world.”

Judon also said he was pleased to see Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti take an active role on the issue recently. Bisciotti pledged $1 million from his foundation to be distributed to social-justice organizations selected by a group of former and current Ravens, and Bisciotti and many players took part in a “Black Lives Matter” video produced by the organization in support of social justice and racial equality.

“We all are here for a common goal,” Judon said, “and it’s usually to win football games. But right now, it’s bigger than football. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed, and it has nothing to do with a win or a loss. So I felt that it was huge that our owner got up there and said what he said, and the players said what they said.”

“The movement, and what the video was saying, is, ‘People of different color don’t want to be above the law. We just want the law to work for us,’” Judon continued. “That’s really what it was saying, and I commend every man that got on that video and spoke from their heart. … I feel like the video speaks for itself, and it was very powerful.”

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Bo Smolka

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