CHANGE HIGH ON AGENDA

Bears’ Leno feels obli­ga­tion to do all he can to ad­dress racial in­jus­tice

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - MARK POTASH BEARS BEAT mpotash@sun­times.com | @MarkPo­tash

The Bears’ can­cel­la­tion of prac­tice last week in the wake of the shoot­ing of Ja­cob Blake by a po­lice of­fi­cer in Kenosha, Wis­con­sin, was more than a state­ment to left tackle Charles Leno. It was a call to ac­tion.

Leno not only wanted to take a stand, he wanted to get in­volved in com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties to help spread ‘‘aware­ness . . . com­pas­sion . . . and un­der­stand­ing for oth­ers.’’ He tried to take it a step fur­ther by go­ing to Kenosha — just 30 miles from Halas Hall — to try to make a dif­fer­ence.

‘‘I talked to the Bears about it,’’ Leno said af­ter prac­tice Wed­nes­day. ‘‘Due to COVID and due to [safety] con­cerns, that is off-lim­its. But we are still try­ing to fig­ure out ways we can help. That’s where we are right now. We’re still try­ing to fig­ure out ways we can im­pact the com­mu­nity and help other com­mu­ni­ties all around us in the United States.’’

Wed­nes­day marked the sec­ond time in eight days that Leno was made avail­able to the me­dia, a rare oc­cur­rence in the days of COVID-19. So it was pre­sumed that Leno had some­thing to say. In­deed, he did.

The prox­im­ity of Kenosha to Halas Hall — ‘‘right in our back­yard,’’ he said — struck a par­tic­u­lar chord for the Bears and es­pe­cially Leno. Foot­ball play­ers are con­di­tioned to ‘‘bunker down’’ and in­su­late them­selves from any dis­trac­tions dur­ing the sea­son, whether it’s a quar­ter­back con­tro­versy or real-world events. So when play­ers such as Leno em­brace an emo­tional cause such as the protest against racial in­jus­tice — a week be­fore the reg­u­lar sea­son be­gins, no less — it speaks vol­umes. And Leno has done that twice.

‘‘As play­ers, we wanted to take a stand and just let ev­ery­body know that what’s go­ing on right now in our so­ci­ety, we have a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on it,’’ Leno said. ‘‘Be­cause we’re pro­fes­sion­als, ev­ery­body looks to us and praises us. Es­pe­cially me be­ing a Black player, be­ing a Black male, they praise me for what I’m do­ing.

‘‘But there are other Black males out there who are get­ting mis­treated. That’s what our stance was, and that’s what we wanted to get across.’’

It re­mains to be seen what ef­fect pro­fes­sional ath­letes in the NFL, NBA and Ma­jor League Base­ball had in tak­ing a stand af­ter the shoot­ing. The idea that any protest — sym­bolic, peace­ful or vi­o­lent — is go­ing to end sys­temic racism in a week, a month or six months is a fal­lacy. In the fight for equal­ity, progress is of­ten as slow as it is painful.

More than 57 years af­ter Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘‘I Have a Dream’’ speech at the March on Washington, ac­tivists for racial jus­tice still are try­ing to strike a del­i­cate bal­ance: act­ing with ‘‘the ur­gency of now’’ while main­tain­ing ‘‘the high plane of dig­nity and dis­ci­pline’’ to mo­ti­vate politi­cians, change at­ti­tudes and ‘‘make real the prom­ises of democ­racy.’’

Peace­ful protest doesn’t seem to make an im­pact. Loot­ing and ri­ot­ing are detri­men­tal to the cause. Where is the mid­dle ground? It doesn’t even seem to ex­ist at this point. The sym­bolic protests by the Bears and many NFL teams last week were a wor­thy at­tempt to pro­mote a level of aware­ness that leads to ac­tion. They might seem in­con­se­quen­tial now, but they are small steps on the road to progress.

The next step is the kind of ac­tion Leno wants to be a part of.

‘‘Be­ing the clos­est team to it, we wanted to stake a stand,’’ Leno said. ‘‘Hope­fully we did that. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do, still have a ton of work to do — whether it’s in the field of be­ing in Kenosha and be­ing in Chicago, just all around the United States of Amer­ica.’’

‘‘AS PLAY­ERS, WE WANTED TO TAKE A STAND AND JUST LET EV­ERY­BODY KNOW THAT WHAT’S GO­ING ON RIGHT NOW IN OUR SO­CI­ETY, WE HAVE A DIF­FER­ENT PER­SPEC­TIVE ON IT.’’ CHARLES LENO, Bears left tackle

NAM Y. HUH/AP

Bears of­fen­sive tackle Charles Leno says that the team’s can­cel­la­tion of prac­tice last week in the wake of the shoot­ing of Ja­cob Blake was a call to ac­tion.

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