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Bucs announce social justice initiative


TAMPA — Bucs receiver DeSean Jackson stepped out of his cleats and walked in the shoes of a Tampa police officer during a simulation training session Tuesday that was eye-opening.

“I was a police officer doing a regular (traffic) stop and I got up to the car and they just started shooting at me,” Jackson said. “I was like, dang. I had to react. I wasn’t expecting that one.”

Almost a year ago to the day, Jackson and teammate Mike Evans took a knee during the national anthem before a game at Minnesota to draw attention to social injustice.

That spurred a team conversation that on Tuesday led to the unveiling of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Social Justice Initiative.

The player-led, year round initiative which has adopted the motto of “We are the change,” was created with $1 million in matching funds from the Glazer family that owns the Bucs.

On Tuesday, the initiative’s founding board that includes DeSean Jackson, Gerald McCoy, Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet and about 15 teammates, participated in police specialty team demonstrations and scenario-based exercises at the TPD training facility. They also held a question and answer session with Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan.

“I thought there was a disconnect and miscommunication that needed to be cleared,” McCoy said. “And we were able to ask questions and it was an open and honest conversation. We were able to ask hard questions.”

Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who says he goes to sleep each night listening to a police call scanner, said it’s the kind of conversation people need to have in every city. “This is an interesting time in America,” Buckhorn said. “It is an interesting time in the cities of America. It is a very unique time in terms of the police in our communities, particularly our communities of color. This is a challenge unlike anything we have faced as a nation. But ultimately it’s up to us how we resolve that quandary. It’s about communication. It’s about treating people with respect.”

The NFL has been looking for answers to this thorny issue since the summer of 2016, when a string of police shootings of unarmed black men inspired 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to kneel rather than stand for the national anthem. Kaepernick said he was protesting racial injustice. Other NFL players followed his lead, and athletes from other sports leagues joined the protests in various forms. But there were negative responses, even calls by President Donald Trump that players who protest during the national anthem should be fired.

When Trump launched a sensational attack on NFL players, saying owners should “get that son of a (expletive) off the field” if  players disrespect the flag, it seemed to unify players and management. But television ratings saw a slight dip, and owners such as Jerry Jones tried to reach a solution by adopting a national anthem policy at the league meetings in March. The NFL rescinded its national anthem policy and is working with the players association on an collectively bargained one.

Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, Bucs owner/president of the team’s foundation, said Tampa Bay players identified four areas that needed the most help: police relations, criminal justice reform, racial equality and youth empowerment.

The Bucs players have three more events scheduled this year: a Ready 4-work ex-offender training program, a prison crusade with Abe Brown Ministries and a juvenile justice mentoring event with G3 Life Apps.

“I had some questions I wanted to ask because I have some family in law enforcement and I understand that their job, career, it’s not easy,” McCoy said. “It’s not easy at all and they take a lot of heat. Everybody in professional football, they’re not always going to be the best people. They’re not going to make the best decisions. But it’s going to be magnified with something negative. But there’s a lot, a lot, a lot, of great police officers out there and they do a lot in the community. And it’s not just protecting us, but going to schools and talking to groups or spending time with kids they drive past at the park.”

McCoy’s turn in the simulator on Tuesday also did not end well.

“I did the simulation where I actually ended up being stabbed because I missed (with the taser),” McCoy said. “And I did a simulation where, they weren’t aggressive, but it escalated very fast. It teaches you that you have to make split second decisions. The crazy thing is similar to Sundays, you have a decision to make. You have your training. But you’re not always going to make the right decision. They opened our eyes to that today. It’s easy to watch it on TV from afar and say what a person should and shouldn’t do and how things should and shouldn’t go. But when you’re right in the midst, in the heat of the moment, it’s a lot harder than we make it seem.”

DeSean Jackson thanked the Glazer Family Foundation for their willingness to provide matching player contribution, which could result in a $2-million fund for the initiative. He said he hopes other NFL teams will follow suit with similar programs.

“It’s like a trigger affect,” Jackson said. “Once again, I don’t think the Glazers could miss this opportunity. It definitely helped, the conversation we had last year. Definitively, from last year to where we are right now is a huge change, a huge jump.”

Contact Rick Stroud at stroudbucs@aol.com. Follow @NFLStroud