NASHVILLE – On Wednesday, six months after a memorable team meeting regarding social justice issues in our country, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill reflected on the emotions of that day.
They made a lasting impact in more ways than one.
"We literally had hours of conversations as a team," Tannehill recalled. "Things that were going on in our country, we were able to hear from guys on things they wanted to speak on, things from the heart. It was a true, open conversation. You could feel the emotion pulsing through that meeting."
From that day forward, players turned up their efforts even more to create change, and to make a difference in the Nashville community, and beyond.
The impact became even more evident on Wednesday when it was announced the Tennessee Titans organization, in a collaborative effort through the NFL's Inspire Change initiative, raised over $130,000 in 2020 for organizations addressing socially justice in our local community.
The funds were raised through personal donations from Titans players to the cause of their choosing, which were then matched by The Titans Foundation and the NFL.
"The level of participation from the players has been amazing," said Tina Tuggle, Vice President, Community Impact, for the Titans. "One of the things that I am most proud of with our guys is that you don't have to force them to be involved in the community. This is something that is extremely important to them, and this just gives us an opportunity to learn about how they want to make a difference. We are very glad to be able to support them in those efforts."
Among the nine organizations that received donations were:
• 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee, a non-profit organization providing resources to further the academic and social development of black male students in Nashville and Middle Tennessee.
• YWCA Amend Together, a prevention initiative dedicated to ending violence against women and girls by engaging men and boys to change the culture that supports violence
• Project Return, a program dedicated to the successful new beginnings of people who are returning to the Nashville community after incarceration.
During a conference call on Wednesday, Tuggle said Fisk University, Northwest YMCA, Caring Hearts and the YWCA Amend Program were also among the organizations that received donations.
Lori Adukeh, Executive Director of 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee Inc, said the resources will help the organization bring more young men into the program.
Prior to the season, Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing, formerly tights ends coach with the Titans, and his family pledged $1,000 for each touchdown by a Titans tight end to help in the pursuit of equality. Tannehill, receiver A.J. Brown and many other players and coaches jumped in to pledge their support as well, Adukeh said.
"There's almost not enough words for me to (say) thank you … and to say how much it means to have the Titans organization backing us up," Adukeh said. "We're looking for many more years of partnership.
"(2020) was an amazing year (for 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee) and it started with the momentum that was built with what the Titans were doing. … We've had so many organizations come to us, wanting to support what we do, and what we stand for."
Also, it light of recent social unrest, Titans players this past year created "Real Conversations with a Titan", a virtual program aimed at reaching local youth. The conversations focused on encouraging a dialogue of love, respect, hard work, compassion, communication, equality and accountability, and also spoke to facing adversity during difficult situations. Each discussion was kept confidential in order to ensure a safe space for open dialogue. Players additionally met with members of the Metro Nashville Police Department to address similar topics showing their commitment to using their voice to create meaning conversations for change.
Adolpho Birch, Sr. Vice President, Business Affairs & Chief Legal Officer with the Titans, said on Wednesday it was an important year for the team in the community, from tornado relief and assisting the city with clean-up, the pandemic response and educating and informing those in the community, as well as the organization being able to safely host games at Nissan Stadium while bringing some return to normalcy. All this along with assisting in bringing social justice awareness.
"Serving the communities in our state and in our region in really a central tenet to the mission and culture of the Tennessee Titans," Birch said. "For us, it is not just about service, but it's about service and giving with an impact. For us, 2020 represented everything we were looking to do in terms of our engagement, in terms of our giving, and in terms of our impact, we hope.
"Our players, in particular our players, were deeply impacted, and deeply moved by the events of this summer. And they have been active contributors to the conversation that has resulted from this summer's events. … It represents the very best of what our players, our league, our organization can do on order to assist not only the citizens of this city, this state and this region, but our country."
With a sense of pride, Tannehill looks back at August 27, the day in training camp when the team canceled practice to focus on matters bigger than football.
Back then, in emotional pleas, Tannehill and Titans safety Kevin Byard both addressed the subjects of social injustice, racism and police brutality during a video conference call, while saying the team wants to make a stand together following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.
The shooting came three months after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk, Titans General Manager Jon Robinson and Titans Coach Mike Vrabel all said last summer they wanted to do their part to end social injustice, racism and police brutality, while encouraging others to do the same.
Some positive change has clearly resulted, Tannehill said on Wednesday.
"I would definitely agree that eyes are more open now than they have ever been," Tannehill said. "When you think of a football team, you have 90 guys in training camp that come from all different walks of life, all different backgrounds, all different parts of the country, and that is the beautiful part about football – it is able to bring all those different types of people together. One of the coolest things about this year, is not only did we bring these people together, we were able to have open conversations and dialogue about how different people have been impacted by social justice issues their entire lives.
"Being able to hear true, open, emotional stories about how guys were impacted opens a lot of peoples' eyes and obviously we were able to use that to try and effect change and impact our communities as we move forward."