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‘Hard Knocks’ review: Chargers, Rams share raw feelings about police shooting Black men

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn works with players at the team's training complex in Costa Mesa on Aug. 17.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, center, works with players at the team’s training complex in Costa Mesa on Aug. 17.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Ahead of the team’s first scrimmage at SoFi Stadium, Chargers quarterback Tyrod Taylor walked through the tunnel and motioned for his teammates. who were still marveling at their new $5-billion home, to come into the locker room.

There, the players, coaches and staff talked. That week, the NBA and MLB canceled scheduled games in protest for systemic change.

Less than four months after the death of George Floyd, the country again dealt with questions surrounding racism and law enforcement after Wisconsin police officers shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, seven times in the back.

Coach Anthony Lynn sensed his players were conflicted about playing in the scrimmage. That’s why instead of stretching, the team sat inside the locker room to engage in dialogue and express their emotions.

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“And we’re not going to take the football field until we get it out,” Lynn said, which HBO’s “Hard Knocks” cameras captured.

It appeared Travin Howard was destined to play a significant role at linebacker for the Rams until a knee injury sidelined him for the season.

Special teams coordinator George Stewart, 62, talked about his years growing up in the South. Any movement for change, he said, comes with a sacrifice. An example he mentioned was Colin Kaepernick, who four years ago knelt in protest during the national anthem, and has yet to be signed by a team.

“The players faced a choice,” Stewart said. If they sacrificed this practice time, he said they should use it productively.

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“We are football players, not politicians,” Stewart said. “But it is up to us to use our damn platforms.”

Instead of scrimmaging, the Chargers spoke extensively with the media about the issues of the day. NFL Network had been scheduled to air some of the competition, but instead, players spoke about the state of the country.

The night before, Lynn conducted a videoconference meeting with his players, saying he’d like to practice, but would listen to the group. If the consensus was to not practice, Lynn said he would support it.

“I don’t want anyone out there if they are not in the right frame of mind,” Lynn said during the call.

At the beginning of the episode, which aired Tuesday night, Rams coach Sean McVay lifted his hands over his head, shocked at the video of the Blake shooting. Speaking with Artis Twyman, senior director of communications for the Rams, McVay said, “That makes me sick.”

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Later, McVay asked Twyman, who is Black, what he feels when he watches similar videos of unarmed Black men being shot.

“I think more about the people who this happened to where there was no video,” Twyman said.

McVay and other coaches later met with a small group of players to discuss if they should practice. They did.

Wide receiver Robert Woods made the point that if they canceled the session, they needed to do an actionable item, such as meeting with the Los Angeles Police Department.

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Will Chargers star receiver Keenan Allen be able to be as productive with offense shifting its focus under new quarterback Tyrod Taylor?

In football developments, the Chargers gave more repetitions to quarterback Justin Herbert, the team’s first-round draft pick. Lynn said he wanted to challenge the young player so he could eventually become more comfortable with the offensive scheme and the speed of the NFL.

Herbert joked about the trash talk he heard, saying the defense reminded him he wasn’t playing in college anymore.

The rookie the Rams are trying to challenge is wide receiver Van Jefferson, who caught a touchdown pass during a scrimmage. McVay said he has been pleased with his route running.

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But during a play at practice, Jefferson lined up against star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who intercepted a pass and ran it back for a score.

The episode also showed Mike Williams, the Chargers No.2 receiving option, injure his shoulder while attempting a diving catch. He is expected to miss the start of the season.


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