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Within the span of 24 hours, the NBA went from the Milwaukee Bucks players considering a strike in the wake of the police shooting of Kenosha, Wisconsin man Jacob Blake, to the league on the brink of canceling the season, to resumption of the postseason by Friday or Saturday.
The Detroit Lions canceled their practice on Wednesday. The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers postponed their game yesterday, following the postponements of the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres games. The NHL announced it would postpone its playoff games on Thursday. Multiple NFL teams canceled their Thursday practices.
The San Francisco 49ers, however, kept their practice, albeit in the form of a walkthrough, in order to prevent further injuries, of which they have already sustained plenty.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan explained Thursday that he opened the floor to players, who did not express a desire to cancel practice, though he would have if that was their wish.
“I usually follow the lead of our players on that,” Shanahan said. “If they wanted to not practice today we definitely would have done that, but no one brought that to my attention and I opened it up to all them and that wasn’t what they wanted to do.”
Raheem Mostert said Shanahan encouraged players to talk to him, general manager John Lynch or even CEO Jed York about social justice issues, or bring them to the floor in front of their teammates, whatever players’ preferred forum may be.
“Everybody understands what’s going on,” Mostert said. “It’s nice that we have an organization with the Niners even guys like Jed and John and Kyle, who have those open discussions to let guys talk and be free and express themselves. Kyle brought it up yesterday after a very tough practice and it was by far one of our best practices, but he let us know that, ‘Hey look, despite what’s going on outside of what we’re doing, there’s still things that we need to talk about and I’m gonna leave it up to you guys, to see if you guys want to talk about it. My door is always open, John’s door and even Jed’s door is always open to talk about those different type of justice issues and stuff like that.”
Shanahan said the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was “discussed a ton over the offseason,” and recognized, although declining to say it explicitly, that players and their families deal with systemic and police-related racism at home, throughout their entire lives.
“It’s stuff that lots of our players have been dealing with their entire life that people didn’t deal with for hundreds of years,” Shanahan said. “So, now that there’s cameras out there, people see it a lot more, which is why I truly believe it’ll eventually change. It’s not happening fast enough, obviously.”
The recently-extended head coach commended the authenticity throughout the ranks of the 49ers’ facility, from players, to staff and the front office, describing their facility as something of a sanctuary to “be yourself,” though acknowledged that sanctuary is just that, an isolated safe place.
“But at the same time, it’s not a sanctuary for everybody,” Shanahan said. “Our guys are here but there’s lots of families out there and family members of our team that have to deal with this stuff right now and they’re dealing with it all the time. And that’s the stuff you do have to take into account because everybody is on a different page where they’re at in their life with it and how they are being affected and how they do want to handle it.”
Shanahan stressed that the floor and his door remains open for players to talk about issues, whether personal, related to social justice or otherwise. He said if players want to cancel practice to pursue change, he won’t hesitate to allow it.
“You let guys know that it’s okay to bring it up at any time,” Shanahan said. “Whether you want to come into my office and talk to me personally about it, if the guys want to bring it up in a team meeting and have all this talk about it together, whether the guys want to take a day off of a practice because they feel that there’s something that we can go do that to help this cause that definitely is obviously more important than football and any type of sport, you try to keep that open for all the players so guys aren’t just doing something just to do it.
They’re doing something they believe in and that they think can help and I think guys do that and how they live their life every day, at least the guys that I’m around. But if there’s anything anything they want to do constructively as a team or take practice off to do that, there’ll be zero hesitation on our part. But that’s something that I’ll always leave up to the players to bring to my attention.”
Over the offseason, the 49ers participated in an open discussion of race, social justice, police brutality and actionable political steps like registering to vote in a video series entitled “Subject to Change,” following the killing of Floyd:
The 49ers announced over the summer that they would be donating $1 million in grant money to social justice organizations working to “create change.” Per a team spokesperson, 49ers players have been involved in the review and selection process of the organizations that will be given grants from the 49ers.