NASHVILLE – The practice field was quiet at Saint Thomas Sports Park on Thursday.
But the message from players – standing side by side in a meeting room inside the building – on this day, was loud and clear.
The Titans were among a number of NFL teams that chose to not practice Thursday.
Instead, the team is spending the day focusing on matters bigger than football.
In emotional pleas, Titans safety Kevin Byard and quarterback Ryan Tannehill 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.
"As I woke up this morning and headed to the facility at six a.m. this morning, I was prepared to go to practice," Byard said. "But as we started, we had a team meeting this morning, first as a leadership with Mike Vrabel, and we had a lot of powerful discussions. Guys spilled out their emotions, guys teared up, and we had a lot of constructive conversations. But as we went to our team meeting, that's with the entire team, we felt as players and as an entire organization that it was right to not practice today. We feel that with all the recent events that's happened in our country, not only just this year, not only the past year, but the past hundreds of years, we decided that it's time to take a stand today. We feel that with this moment right here, and today, with my brother Ryan (Tannehill) standing next to me and all my brothers standing behind me, we wanted to show solidarity and be unified, and say that we're tired. We're sick and tired of seeing the things that's been going on, on social media for the entertainment. Seeing our Black brothers and sisters be murdered by police like it's nothing. It's time for a change. As I sit here and try to gather my thoughts – this is not a prepared statement. I didn't have time to prepare a statement. I'm coming to you and I'm talking from the heart. I just had a son, just Sunday. I have a one-year-old daughter, and I have no clue what I'm going to tell them or what kind of world that they're going to grow up in, in this country. I'm begging and pleading to the powers that may be, to please, please, we're crying, I'm spilling my heart out to say that we need change, and we need change as soon as possible. Thank you."
When Byard finished, Tannehill made an emotional plea of his own.
"Like Kevin said, we had a powerful conversation this morning," Tannehill said. "Guys spilling their hearts out and really hearing different perspectives on experiences, on viewpoints, and as a team we felt like it's important that we stand up here together, united. That though we may be from different backgrounds, from different situations, been through different experiences, we're together and support each other throughout this whole year. Like Kevin said, these systematic oppressions have been going on for a long time, hundreds of years. This country is founded upon racist ideas with slaves being brought here from the day of foundation, and those ideas have persisted throughout the last hundreds of years and it's going to take time until we can get those all out. But we're tired of it. We're tired of dealing with the systematic oppression. We're tired of dealing with excessive force. We're tired of seeing Black men and women die in situations where they should be walking home and spending the night with their families. It's sickening."
Tannehill, with masked-up teammates Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown standing directly behind him, got choked up when thinking about his own family, and the privileges he was afforded growing up, knowing families of color don't have the same luxuries.
"It's sickening to just know that they have to worry about their kids coming home at night," Tannehill said. "I have two young kids that, because of the color of their skin, I never have to worry about if they get pulled over by a police officer if they're going to make it out of that interaction alive, and that's a sick fact of the world that we're living in. So, we stand up here together, united, demanding change that there's equality and justice for all those situations."
Following the shooting of Blake, a Black man in Wisconsin, earlier this week, the subject of racial injustice has sparked more protests, and emotions, across the country.
Blake, 29, was shot seven times by police, as he leaned into his SUV, his children seated inside. 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 Vrabel all said earlier this summer they want to do their part to end social injustice, racism and police brutality, while encouraging others to do the same.
On Thursday, Vrabel said the Titans are spending Thursday on matters bigger than football. The team will continue to have discussions before deciding whether the team will practice as scheduled on Friday.
In a video conference call with reporters, Vrabel expressed frustration because, after conversations with players, it feels like "here we are again."
"I'm tremendously proud of our football team," Vrabel said. "I'm tremendously proud to be their coach, to lead a group of men that care for one another, that care for making this place better than what it was when they got here, making a stand, believing in something. I am proud to be able to listen to them and allow them to help me lead this football team. When I went to bed last night, I wasn't sure what today was going to be like. I wanted it to be authentic, and I wanted it to be real, and after listening to them, and hearing them, and talking to them this morning … we felt it was best that we spend the day focusing on things other than football.
"We want to make positive change. We felt like today was another great step in doing that. Our players have come together today, and we're going t be closer for it, we're going to be better for it. We might not have been productive at football, but we were a productive football team.
"I hope that we can continue to inspire people to make positive change," Vrabel continued. "We can't ever tell anybody how they should feel but hopefully people can look at our team and respect the way that we play on the field with the effort and the toughness, and also respect our team for the way we carry ourselves off the field."