JACKSONVILLE – On a day of emotions, Chris Conley voiced the thoughts of many.
"I don't know exactly how I feel right now," he said.
Conley, the Jaguars' veteran wide receiver, spoke after a 2020 Training Camp practice that nearly didn't happen Thursday – a day when Jaguars players and coaches again focused on social injustice in the aftermath of the Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin.
"I can't explain, or really put into words, the emotion: Sadness, frustration, confusion…" Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said. "There are a lot of emotions that I'm going through right now and a lot of emotions that we're all going through right now."
The Jaguars discussed the Blake incident and the ongoing social justice debate Thursday morning in a team meeting that lasted more than two hours. The team seriously considered not practicing, according to players and Marrone. Multiple NFL teams opted against practicing Thursday.
Marrone left the decision on practicing Thursday to a player vote, with Conley saying players voted in favor by a count of 37-36. A practice scheduled for 9:45 a.m. occurred at 11:30 at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex.
"What a day," Conley said. "The building and the locker room was somewhat of a microcosm of what's been going on in this country for weeks and months.… You can look at that as a negative or you can look at the fact that the discourse was happening and the disagreement was happening but people decided to band together and stick together and see the positives in that."
Marrone, like Conley and wide receiver DJ Chark Jr., spoke to the media via videoconference following practice. Chark said he commended Marrone for his handling of the situation, adding that the discussion for players is "definitely not close to being over."
"We talked about it, we all had our differences," Chark said. "Whether you were on the side of practicing or whether you were on the side of not practicing, we came to an agreement that we would make a vote and whatever side is the side, then we [were] all going to respect that and we were going to respect that decision as a team. We were going to do it.
"We decided that, 'As a team, we're not going to let 5 or 10 people go out there and practice. We're going to practice together.' That's what we did. And I think as a team, we took a big step today. And by practicing, by no means are we not being aware of the situation. We are deeply saddened by the situation and we're going to take the rest of this day to continue to talk about it."
Marrone, too, said while multiple opinions and emotions were expressed Thursday morning, the team was able "at the end of the day, somehow, to come together and go out there." He also said the circumstances meant that Thursday would not be "an ordinary day, or business as usual."
"Obviously, there are issues we find ourselves going back and speaking again to," he said. "As a head coach, I knew that silence is wrong, I knew that listening is important. I knew that creating an opportunity for us to speak is only going to be productive; it's not going to ever be counterproductive for people to get up there and talk about their feelings when you're on a team."
The Jaguars held no football-related activities after practice, meeting to continue discussions that began in the morning – discussions that Marrone, Chark and Conley said centered around "actionable" measures that will inspire change.
"We've had conversations time and again on what we can do that's actionable," Conley said. "We've come up with ideas, but ultimately what we all agree on is we can't stop pressing until things happen. It's not something that will happen overnight, but we can't allow ourselves to let life happen and for us to forget. … We might not be able to affect the whole world, but we can do something here where we're at."
The Jaguars in early June were among the first professional sports teams to publicly protest the death of George Floyd. Marrone was emotional at times Thursday, referencing conversations from two months before and saying: "When is enough? How long is this going to keep going on? We drew attention to it and here we are again."
"There's a higher level of frustration this time around, a higher level of, 'Here we are again. Why are we here again? What are we doing? Why have we gotten here?'" Marrone said.
Conley expressed similar difficulty defining his emotions.
"Everyone doesn't have all the answers right now, but we're doing our best to grapple with the events of the past week – and really the past months and years and experiences of our lives," Conley said.
Marrone said he also is struggling with not knowing a path to set for players on the issue – but added, "We are committed as a team to finding it – and committing to taking the time to get it done."
"I think there are a lot more discussions to go on," he said. "As a white man in this country, I can't even imagine what it's like. And I'll never say I know what it's like. I do know this: the fire and intensity to make a difference grows every time I hear the stories of some of our players.
"I'm going to continue to listen and I'm going to continue to support. … I'm trying to find that path and I think that's what we're all trying to do."