NASHVILLE – On the football field, Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro lets his pads – and helmet – do the talking.
Off the field, he wants to spend his time talking about something more important than a game.
Vaccaro, in his eight NFL season, started off his video conference call with reporters on Friday by saying he doesn't want to talk about football with media this season.
Instead, Vaccaro wants to use his voice to discuss social injustice, systemic oppression, racism and police brutality following the recent events in our country, from the recent shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin to George Floyd's murder by a Minneapolis policeman back in May.
"With all due respect, I'm really not going to talk football when I come into these meetings in light of recent events that have been happening around the country. I just think for me and my platform, my duty is to speak on the things that are happening and that's just my stance. I'm just not going to talk football this year," Vaccaro said.
"I just think football is not the most important thing right now – it is family, it is your brothers in the locker room, it is the systematic oppression, the racial injustices going on. It is bigger than ball."
On Thursday, the Titans canceled practice and the team spent the day discussing matters as a team. Vaccaro said he wants to join others on the team in making a positive change in the Nashville community, and across the country.
In emotional pleas on Thursday, Titans safety Kevin Byard and quarterback Ryan Tannehill stood with their teammates to address the subjects of social injustice, racism and police brutality, while vowing to stand together as a team.
"For me, the next step is taking action, getting in the communities and being a shining light, an example," Vaccaro said. "The leaders of the team got together, and we talked about different things we can do, maybe on our off days to show action, to show that we really want change and we are not just talking about it.
"Canceling a practice, we didn't do that because we didn't want to ball out. We did that because we felt it was right to talk about all the different emotions everybody was going through as a team, make sure that we respected everybody and let everybody know that we are a family, and our football team needs to be a shining light to the outside world, and how it needs to be done, how people need to be treated.
"I don't think sitting out a practice is going to stop police from killing Black men," Vaccaro continued. "I think sitting out of practice allowed us to get together and talk about a plan with our team and put that plan to action and not just skip practice and go home and just miss a day because of things that happened. We spent hours upon hours talking about different ideas and things we can do."
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel on Thursday mentioned the team's plan to "Zoom With a Titan," a way the organization can teach children. Vrabel said he wants to recreate the atmosphere in schools so it's like it is in the building at Saint Thomas Sports Park, one that consists of love, hard work, compassion, equality and accountability.
Vaccaro said he's looking forward to that endeavor, and he's also looking forward to finding other ways the team can make a difference outside of football.
Vaccaro, the father of two young sons, said it's important to influence the youth to make it a better place. Vaccaro said he teared up in a team meeting on Thursday when discussing difficult topics as it relates to social injustices, and his kids.
What's needed most right now, Vaccaro said, is education, and influencing the youth.
Vaccaro is one of the team's toughest players, a hard-hitting safety who finished fourth on the team with 104 stops in 2019. He plans to keep producing at a high level in his third season as a Titan, but he wants to make a bigger impact off the field as well.
"When I am in the building, I am locked it, and I am focused, I am doing my daily routine – football is football," Vaccaro said. "But at the end of the day, when I step out those doors, I consider myself a black man, and I consider myself to have a responsibility to speak up. I feel like – and me and K.B. (Kevin Byard) talked about this – there are not too many Martin Luther Kings or Malcolm Xs (in today's world) … young kids look up to athletes now, that's their heroes. People can say, "Shut up and dribble" or "Stick to sports," but at the same time, enough is enough. That is how I feel, and not everybody is going to have the same stance as me. … But this is where I feel comfortable, speaking on it. And I feel like I can do that.
"The best thing we can do is have a lasting impact on our youth for future generations, whether it is getting in the schools … and just trying to touch their hearts. Because the heart is where you change."
Titans Online looks back at safety Kenny Vaccaro's 2019 season (Photos: Donald Page)