If Giants players want to kneel for the national anthem in peaceful protest this fall, coach Joe Judge told the Daily News on Monday that the organization is going to “support the players.”
The first-year head coach said the Giants have not yet discussed in detail how they will proceed on game days. But when asked if he would be O.K. with players kneeling and if he would join them, Judge said his and the organization’s goal will be to support the course of action that is important to their players.
“We’re gonna support the players,” Judge told the News Monday in a one-on-one phone interview. “We’re gonna support the players, and we’re gonna have conversations leading up to the preseason games and the regular season games. We’ve had a lot of conversations as a team. However, we have not talked specifically about anything on game day.
“So the answer is we’re gonna support the players and we’re gonna take the time to talk as a team,” Judge added. “That’s with the players, with coaches and ownership listening and being involved. But we’re gonna do what we have to do to support the players.”
Judge, 38, obviously is not taking the kind of stand here that the Houston Texans GM and coach Bill O’Brien recently made when he told the Houston Chronicle: “Yeah, I’ll take a knee — I’m all for it.”
But Judge’s general message of support for whatever the Giants decide is noteworthy considering the club’s recent history on this issue.
In May 2018, co-owner John Mara helped craft a (short-lived) national anthem policy requiring NFL players and staff to stand. And Mara told SiriusXM NFL Radio at the time:
“I think certainly we hope that our players stand for the (anthem) this year. I think it’s the right thing to do. We’ve been supportive of those in the past who have decided to protest, but I think we’ve gotten to a point now where it’s become such a divisive issue that I think it’s important that we come out of here with a policy that everybody can respect and adhere to.”
None of the three Giants who knelt for the anthem in 2017 — Olivier Vernon, Landon Collins and Damon Harrison — remain on the team.
While the Giants still have to discuss how they’ll proceed on game days, however, Judge’s team has spent the last couple weeks having daily conversations on the racial injustice and police brutality that was forced to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness these last few weeks.
And the Giants have a plan for how to get involved in the local community:
They have divided their player roster up into smaller groups, and they’ve assigned each group a different location in the Tri-State area to concentrate player-driven initiatives on communities and organizations throughout the region.
“We’ve got a team program where we break the team into subdivided teams, and those subdivided teams have at this point identified a focus or two for each of the groups, and we’ve built them geographically into the New York Metroplex working on the boroughs, around New Jersey,” Judge said. “And they’re gonna work with some local organizations to be involved with local communities.
“It was important for us and important for our players to be involved with this area,” he continued. “It was important for them to be involved with all parts of the area, not just checking the box and saying we’re working with one organization. They wanna go ahead and hit kids and families and organizations from all over the area. That was important to them.”
Judge wants to make clear that the Giants’ programs are “completely player-guided.” The coaches and organization are helping to facilitate, support and participate in all of it.
But this was about listening to the players’ voices, hearing their message, encouraging discussion amongst the players themselves, and now “bridging (their goals) through our community resource program.”
The example fullback Eli Penny gave the Daily News last week — connecting police departments to their local youth to improve understanding — is one kind of action they’ll take. And that’s a good overarching theme for the type of work the Giants are planning.
Rookie corner Darnay Holmes, for example, posted a photo Tuesday on Instagram of a Pasadena (Ca.) police officer addressing California youth.
“We talk all the time that we have an opportunity as a team to be an example, a positive example of being able to make a difference and work together within the communities,” Judge said. “We have guys from all different backgrounds, all different experiences. We’re used to working towards a common goal, and when you talk about work towards social justice, these are things that we can be active with in our communities and make a difference.”
Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard, of course, made one of the loudest Giants statements so far by participating in a player-driven video challenging the NFL’s negligence and failure on these issues.
Judge’s response to their words?
“I think all of our players have done a really good job of being articulate with their message, of using their platform, and of drawing awareness,” Judge said. “And my message to the guys was in terms of using social media, this is a platform that didn’t exist 30, 40 years ago, it’s a different time. And they do have a platform. I just urge them: When you put anything out there, make sure you’re speaking for yourself, you’re articulating your beliefs, and that you have no need to clarify or defend it once you put it up there, to just make sure that you’re taking your time to put what you want out there. And that you’re really putting the message out there that you need.”
Internally, as the Daily News reported weeks ago, Judge has received praise for how he handled this difficult situation with his team, including his initial message and the fostering of daily conversations between players.
Judge is not about to pat himself on the back, though. He said he simply tried to make clear that he was there to listen, and that no one on his team should feel that they can’t speak their mind honestly. That laid the foundation for what many players have called constructive and educational dialogue, because obviously not everyone feels the same way.
“The first thing I knew going in was I didn’t have all the answers,” Judge told the News. “And it was important for me to listen. It was important for us as an organization to listen, and it was important for our players to understand that within our building, in our locker room, they can never be afraid to speak honestly.
“We have to be able to have tough conversations,” he said. “We have to understand the individuals that make up the team. I’ve been fortunate to be around some great teams that have had the same type of tough conversations, and players stuck together through a lot of tough things because of that. We have to understand that that’s what we have to be, and we support our players. They cannot feel afraid within our building for anything at any time. They gotta be able to come in. And we have to be able to speak openly with each other.”
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