Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green says fight against racial inequality ‘starts with the top’

The Cincinnati Bengals were not among the NFL teams that canceled practice Thursday, but there was a discussion about doing so as athletes across different sports leagues are making a stand against racial injustice and hoping to spark change in their communities.

Wide receiver A.J. Green said the players’ leadership council talked Thursday morning about not practicing but decided the Bengals would be better off moving forward with preparations for the season and tabling the idea until Friday when the entire team could meet for a bigger discussion.

At least seven NFL teams decided to cancel practices Thursday after NBA teams boycotted the playoffs Wednesday and sparked a wildcat strike among the WNBA, MLB and MLS.

“I think for us, not practicing would have been an option, but what are we doing in that spare time?” Green said. “I think with not practicing, it (couldn’t) be like, ‘Oh, we’re tired and everybody else is doing it.’ I think it has to be a reason going on to not practice if we’re going to have discussions in a whole team setting to where we can get through this and get everyone else’s opinion on, ‘What can we do to move forward?’”

Green said he didn’t have a problem with the team practicing Thursday but was glad to see teams making a stand in light of the police shooting this week of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisc.

“I think it just shows leadership for them to take that big step, because it’s bigger than sports right now,” Green said. “And I think a lot of people are understanding that. I think what’s going on with the pandemic and all these killings and things going on this world today, right now people are tired of that. And I think our focus is on how to make a change. I think that’s the biggest priority right now -- not just sports, it’s trying to make a change in this world.”

Bengals wide receiver Auden Tate was active in his home community during protests following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody earlier this summer. He also is glad to see professional sports teams getting involved in the social justice movement.

“That situation (with Floyd) was real… I wouldn’t necessarily say eye opening because being Black in this country, you kinda already know it and see it, but seeing it start to hit everybody at the same time,” Tate said. “It’s just good to see that it’s starting to affect people and it seems like we’re starting to get a little change. As you can see a few days ago we still have a long way to go. It’s just a work in progress.”

The NFL and other sports leagues have a unique platform to help inspire change, players have said.

Green believes “it starts with the top,” having uncomfortable conversations with owners, general managers and other decision makers within sports teams. On Monday, Carlos Dunlap spoke about wanting to meet with owner Mike Brown personally.

Asked if the Bengals’ front office is receptive to discussions with players, Green said he believes they were involved in some calls during the offseason that he wasn’t a part of, but he knows “they are listening.”

“I think a lot of players are scared to talk because a lot of people aren’t financially stable to where they can make comments on how they feel about things and not feel like they will get cut or something like that,” Green said. “I think it starts from the top and that will create an environment where these guys are comfortable voicing their opinion and not feel like, ‘This could cost me my job because I have a family to feed.’”

On the field, it’s an important time for Green. He missed all of the 2019 season because of ankle surgery and already suffered a bit of a setback in training camp as he prepares for his first game since December 2, 2018. Green started experiencing some tightness in his hamstring Aug. 17 and was pulled from practices until Wednesday when he returned to individual drills.

Coach Zac Taylor had called it a “precautionary” measure to hold Green out, and Green said if it was the regular season, he would have stayed in the game, but it was better for him to take care of his body to make sure it doesn’t become a nagging problem. Green said he needs as many reps as he can get in order to feel comfortable by the opener.

“It feels good,” Green said after taking a full week off. “It’s getting back to 100 percent. For me, I’ve just got to be smart. I’ve got to get my legs back under me. I haven’t played football in a while. For me, it’s just working my way back up to the full speed that I was before I got hurt. It’s a little frustrating, but at this point it could be worse. I’ll just go about my business, keep working, and I’ll be ready. The biggest thing is getting ready for the first game, and that’s what my eyes are on right now.”

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