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For Chargers, Jacob Blake shooting hits hard: ‘Just looking for accountability’

Chargers safety Derwin James Jr., center, takes part in a team practice session in Costa Mesa on Aug. 17.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers traveled to SoFi Stadium on Thursday to play a scrimmage intended to be a step toward their improvement as a team.

Coach Anthony Lynn said that goal was achieved, even though his players didn’t snap the football once.

After a late-morning team meeting centered on the recent shooting of Jacob Blake, Lynn decided to cancel the scrimmage.

“I just felt like this wasn’t the time to practice,” he said. “I feel like we got a lot more done in that locker room than we ever could have gotten done on the football field.”

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The Chargers were just one of the teams around the NFL to call off practice Thursday in the wake of the incident involving Blake, who was shot seven times in the back by police on Sunday in Kenosha, Wis.

The shooting led to several sporting events being postponed Wednesday, including games in the NBA, WNBA and MLS.

The Chargers met on a Zoom call Wednesday night to discuss the situation and initially decided to move forward with their planned scrimmage.

That all changed after the players arrived at SoFi Stadium and continued their discussions in the locker room.

It was the first time in training camp that the entire team — offense and defense — was gathered together in one place somewhere other than on the field.

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“There were so many different conversations going on that we didn’t want to take that to the field,” quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. “We wanted to hash it out in the locker room and move forward.”

Asked specifically how the meeting Thursday was different than previous ones, Taylor explained that it was a much more real discussion.

“It was different …” he said. “As far as deep conversations in the locker room, this was probably the first one I’ve had in years. There was more emotion in this one.”

The Chargers were in an ideal situation to voice their concerns since the NFL Network was on-site to preview the scrimmage. Several players were able to speak on national television about a topic dominating the sports world.

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Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, center, works with players during a team practice session on Aug. 17.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

“As a team, I feel like we’re all just looking for accountability from everyone,” defensive tackle Justin Jones said. “We’re not looking for you to exactly understand how we’re feeling. More so, just to see wrong from right.”

The team meeting Thursday featured what Lynn called “an open floor,” meaning anyone who wanted to speak was permitted to do so.

A few veterans admitted that not scrimmaging could hurt some of the younger players attempting to make the team, particularly with no preseason games being played because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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But the trade-off, they explained, was necessary because of the importance of this social justice movement.

“There’s something to be gained from going out on the field and practicing our craft,” defensive lineman Jerry Tillery said on the NFL Network. “But there’s nothing more important than this right now.”

Lynn made the cancellation announcement on TV while encircled by his players in the corner of one end zone.

“You look at the emotions of our players, our coaches and our support staff,” said general manager Tom Telesco, who was among the Chargers wearing sweatshirts that read “Be The Change.” “It ranges from anger to just utter frustration. It’s powerful and painful at the same time.”

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Athletes in the NBA, WNBA, MLB, MLS, NFL, NHL and professional tennis refused to take part in scheduled events in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake.

As his players began departing SoFi Stadium, Lynn met via videoconference with local reporters.

He spoke with passion about everything that had transpired in the sports world since Wednesday afternoon, when the NBA players in Orlando, Fla., began deciding they would not continue playing.

“We’ve been fighting this fight and to see something happen like what happened in Wisconsin, it’s almost like a slap in the face,” Lynn said. “But that’s the peaks and valleys that we talk about when you stand for something.”

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Lynn said he believed the Chargers meeting Thursday was a needed opportunity for his players to share their feelings.

He also voiced his own frustrations about the recent repeated instances of social injustice.

“We just see the ones that are on video,” Lynn said. “How many times is this really happening? This police brutality … there’s got to be some reform somewhere. We’ve got to get a grip on this.”

Later, he added: “Overall, I feel good about the movement. But we had a setback. What happened in Wisconsin, it was ridiculous. And to see that white boy walking down the street with a machine gun and nobody does nothing. If that’s a Black man, that’s a dead Black man, and we all know that. It’s blatant. We’re going to continue this fight.”


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