Panthers Players Speak On Social Justice Issues

Jason Huber
June 05, 2020 - 11:51 am

As protests continue to take place to stop police brutality and social/racial injustices, the Carolina Panthers' Player Impact Committee has stepped to the forefront with the support of the organization. 

A handful of players protested in Myers Park earlier this week for the justice of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and dozens of more black lives that have been taken too soon. 

Tight end Chris Manhertz, linebacker Andre Smith and defensive end Stephen Weatherly are three players on the committee and have spoken up about the problems. 

Head coach Matt Rhule spoke about the issues on Tuesday, and the three players made themselves available for a Zoom call on Thursday and talked in-depth about the issues taking place in the United States.

Here are some of the topics that were addressed: 

On being a part of protests:

Smith: "Going out there for me, it was just like food for my soul. I felt like I could tweet all these things, I can repost all these things. But actually going out there and doing something physically was just a totally different experience, and I would recommend everyone do it."

Manhertz: "I felt like it was very important just to show everyone that we’re supportive of this and this is something we take pride in. I think oftentimes, especially athletes and people in our positions, sometimes it’s one of those things where you think about it: Should you or should you not? Shaq (Thompson_ reached out to me, as well, and (asked) if I would like to join it. It was a kind of a no-brainer — well, a semi no-brainer because we’re in the midst of a pandemic. It was a great turnout. It was peaceful. There was no violence and I think people’s voices were heard in a way that SouthPark hasn’t seen before."

On being a part of the black community: 

Smith: "I really want the people to know that we as athletes, we as Panthers, as professional athletes - we are with you. I want them to know that as a professional athlete, me - Andre Smith - I completely understand the situation. I'm right there along with you fighting the good fight, and I'm not afraid to use my voice or my platform to speak out."=

Smith also mentioned a time he experienced racism: “I was in South Carolina, moving into UNC, 2015 January, and this is my freshman year of college, with my parents, car loaded up. We’re stopped to get gas somewhere in South Carolina, and this random truck passes by and they scream, ‘F-- you n-word’, and my dad got really mad. I’m like, I didn’t get mad, I was like, ‘There’s nothing I can do.’ That was my first introduction to the Carolinas.”

Manhertz: "To be honest with you, it’s overwhelming. It’s overwhelming. In times likes these, especially with social media and the noise, you have to filter it for yourself, for your mental health. In my eyes, it’s not good to constantly watch negative things, you know, there’s always going to brew negative thoughts, in a way, so it’s definitely overwhelming, but it’s one of those things that, it’s definitely something that’s going to be written down in the history books and we’re going to be looking back at this moment decades down the line and time will tell if what we’re doing is going to be conducive for the big picture, or not.”

Weatherly: "I don't have to choose anymore — I can be both (black and a football player). I can go out and get these numbers (on the field) and do what I can to help bring back a championship, but then also express my grievances as a black man. Neither of those two should interfere with the other, and it feels good and allows me to play free or allows me to play less stressed — which in turn makes me a better football player."

On the organization supporting them: 

Smith: "David Tepper called me and was just telling me how much he supports us, and he wants us to stay safe, and how important it was for us to keep this movement going even after all the hype dies down. I really appreciate that. For him, one, just calling me...the team owner calling me is pretty cool. But (I have an) appreciation for his understanding — again, just knowing that it is a tough time. And Coach (Matt) Rhule, he did a great job as well. He gave us the freedom. He said post however you feel, protest peacefully, be safe. So as far as the staff goes, I couldn’t be any more thankful for how they’ve handled this."

Manhertz: "Mr. Tepper called me as well a few days ago and pretty much offered support, and pretty much empathized and acknowledged that there's a lot of things that need to be fixed in the society that we live in. Having the owner of the organization personally call you and having a conversation about it, I think that speaks volumes to the person he is and the organization that the Panthers is as well."

Weatherly: "I know for a fact that I’ve chosen to not say anything in fear of something bad happening to my career, but for Coach (Matt) Rhule to come out and at least, unprompted say...that ‘it is okay for you to go on and tweet whatever you want, get behind any message that you feel is right and that don’t fear that we’re going to say anything. You have your own platform, speak your truth.’ That speaks bounds. That was amazing and so with that, I just dove head in and instantly asked to join the Player Impact Committee.

On Saints QB Drew Brees kneeling comments: 

Smith:  "Honestly, I really don’t like to get into other people’s lives too much, so honestly I haven’t read his apology. It looked long, I wasn’t about to read that thing, not going to lie. But his original statement, I think, I’m a very understanding person and I understand perspective, so from his perspective, if I had my father in the military, my grandfather and they served and everything like that, even though the military stands for fighting for freedom, fighting against injustice and everything. I can see why he feels like that, I can understand why he feels like that. ... I felt like the apology was just a little, ‘Y’all get off my back now’ type deal, but it is what it is."

Manhertz: “I’m glad that he issued an apology. I think it takes character in a way to acknowledge that your wrong and acknowledge that they messed up in a way. Everybody has their own perspective, so I can’t really take that away from him, but it’s just a matter of acknowledging what’s going on and being empathetic. I think things like that kind of goes a long way in understanding things you may not have been exposed to or experienced.”

On hope and keeping the movement going:

Smith: "A lot of things that we want to do (involve) voter registration. Making sure everyone knows how to and can understand the system and vote. That’s a big thing, as well as police-community relations. We really want to get the police with a good relation in the community."

Manhertz: “You got to do the work. I think a lot of things like this, especially in the age of social media and with people voicing their opinions. I think that’s where it starts, but that’s certainly not where it should end, and I would encourage people to actually take pride in doing the work. And, obviously, there’s many ways that people could go about that, whether it be donating to certain causes, whether it be actually going into these communities and helping to facilitate relationships or community relations between cops and people of color, things like that, is what I mean by doing the work, so that’s something that I definitely take pride in and I’m something that I’m excited to be a part of.”

Weatherly: "I have had so many people text me and ask, what can I do to help? I’m like, this is amazing that people want to help. It’s multi-faceted. It’s multiple fronts. If you feel like there are a lot of people protesting, what can you do to help with action items? What does your election landscape look like? Who are the people that are arguing and fighting? And championing the message for people that aren’t being heard. What do they need? Guiding everyone in the right direction is good. You actually see forces mobilizing to see these things get done. That’s why I’m so hopeful." 

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