They donned masks and clothing that made them stand out just a little bit less. The NFL players taking part in Monday's "justice walk" in Charlotte weren't there to be seen. The usual signs of a professional athlete being at a public event, with large groups asking for pictures, weren't there.
Among the 1,000 or so participants were five Carolina Panthers -- Shaq Thompson, Tre Boston, Andre Smith, Ian Thomas and Chris Manhertz -- who blended into the crowd just as intended, walking through some of Charlotte's wealthiest neighborhoods of Dilworth and Myers Park in protest of social injustice sparked by George Floyd's death.
The event, which started at Freedom Park, was organized by Seeking Justice CLT and Charlotte Uprising, and caught Thompson's attention after seeing a flyer.
"Don't talk about it, be about it!! U want justice and the system to change show up and Walk with Us!! FOR GEORGE AND ALL THE OTHERS WHO WHERE KILLED BY POLICE BRUTALITY. IMA BE THERE," Thompson shared in a social media post advertising the walk.
Thompson, a starting linebacker, reached out to Kass Ottley, one of the event's organizers, about how he could get involved. He intended to just walk with the group. She asked him to stand in front, holding a banner that read: "How to get away with murder: Become a cop."
"He wanted to blend in," Ottley said after the walk. "I said, 'well, I'd really like you on the front line. Nobody will bother you.' Sometimes when they come out, the event becomes about them. And that's not what he wanted, and I thought that was a beautiful thing."
Thompson and Boston stood with the front of the group at the start, but over the duration of the about two-mile walk, they slid further back from the front-line. The other players walked alongside the group. Throughout the three-hour event, the group chanted messages, including "I can't breathe" and "this is what democracy looks like" as neighborhood residents watched them go by and oftentimes showed support with water bottles and signs.
Once they reached the intersection of Queens and Selywn Avenue, the group got down on their knees for nine minutes -- the length of time a police officer in Minneapolis had his knee on Floyd's neck -- chanting and putting their fists in the air.
Ottley said she appreciates what these players did, just like how she led a group in support of former Panthers safety Eric Reid when he knelt during the national anthem to protest injustice prior to a Ravens-Panthers game in 2018.
"They have a huge platform. They have a huge following. They have a huge audience. They could say one thing, and millions of people get involved. For me to build this momentum, it takes a lot," Ottley said. "We need more like that, we need more players to step up. We need more Panthers players to step up. This is your city, you know what I'm saying? Yeah, you have a voice, you have a platform. Use it."
(c)2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)
Visit The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.) at www.charlotteobserver.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.