Jaguars March: "Today was just the first step…"

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JACKSONVILLE – Terry Robiskie has marched before. Often.

"I've been doing these for so long…" Robiskie said Friday morning.

Robiskie first marched in 1967. He understands the impact of marching, its historical importance.

"As Americans, I think marches are a way we have to let our voice be heard," Robiskie said.

But Robiskie, the veteran running backs coach who has been around the NFL longer than anyone around the Jaguars, said in all his marches and in all his 43 professional years he never has experienced anything like Friday morning when Jaguars players, coaches and front office staff walked peacefully through downtown Jacksonville to promote racial equity.

This moment moved those involved.

It moved Head Coach Doug Marrone to talk of Friday being not an end but a beginning. It also moved him to speak of a week spent listening to players – and growing.

"I wanted to make sure the players understood, 'Hey, listen, I want your help, I want to learn, I want to listen, I want to be able to support,' '' Marrone said. "I couldn't have been more proud of these men – both black and white – the way they presented themselves, what they talked about.

"It's a special group."

It moved wide receiver Chris Conley to give an eloquent speech on the steps of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, the destination point of the walk that begin at TIAA Bank Field at 9:04 a.m. – symbolic of the city's 904 area code.

"Being able to admit we can grow is a hallmark of change," said Conley, who also spoke to the media following Friday's march. "I don't know the effect this will have on the community, but I know it will have an effect on the locker room.

"I know I can look at guys who were here today in the eye and say, 'Thank you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for wanting to know more.' I think that in itself makes an impact in the locker room and in this building."

But perhaps no words spoken Friday morning moved as much as those of Robiskie, a veteran of eight NFL teams, four-plus decades and multiple movements and eras.

What mattered to Robiskie was the spirt of the walk. It wasn't planned far in advance, Conley would say later. Some players, as well as Jaguars wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, scrambled to town early Friday from locales around the country where they had been staying at home because of COVID-19.

All involved had a personal perspective on that urgency. Robiskie eloquently voiced his speaking – like Conley – on the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office steps.

"The biggest thing for me was sitting in a meeting on Tuesday and to hear the head coach of the organization step up and say, 'We're going to say something,''' Robiskie said.

The 65-year-old Robiskie at this point fought tears.

"This is the first time … I can tell you guys … my lifetime, I felt the organization …" Robiskie said.

Robiskie paused.

"Come on coach," a voice from the crowd encouraged.

Robiskie continued, "An organization said something. To have a head coach to step up with his family, to have a general manager speak to all the players – black and white – and say we're going to make a statement … In 45 years in the NFL, I've never seen it."

Applause broke out at this point. Robiskie continued, talking of an essay by Jaguars owner Shad Khan published Wednesday on jaguars.com that concluded: "Racism, in all its forms, will kill. It kills people, it kills communities, it kills dreams, it kills hope. For many Americans, now is the moment. Never has that been clearer. I don't want to waste this moment."

"To have the owner come out and release the article he released, and the racism that he felt – that he still feels today – was unbelievable," Robiskie said. "For the city of Jacksonville: All of Jacksonville be proud. You have something, I promise, to be proud of.

"Everybody walking out here today has a shirt on, and it says, 'Black Lives Matter.' And it does. I'm black. My kids are black. We're marching today because a black man got killed. It started with that. Life is all we got. Every life matters.

"All we've got is each other. Stay together. Stick together. Stand for what you believe in."

Conley spoke after Robiskie, emphasizing that the task now is to have the ongoing awareness be a "movement" rather than a moment. The walk then returned to TIAA Bank Field. With the stadium still off-limits to players because of COVID-19, players – many of whom hadn't seen each other since the end of last season – talked outside the gates for a long time.

Conley and Marrone spoke to the media during that time, and Marrone echoed Conley's sentiment about the biggest task facing the group that walked peacefully from the stadium to the sheriff's office and back again on a gray, historic June morning.

"I keep going back to … the murder of George Floyd has sparked frustration, anger … take a step back and you think, 'What can I do, not only as a white male, but as a head football coach?" Marrone said. "That's a lot going on, but what can we control? We can control what goes on here.

"I think you'll see steps as we progress through this. You say, 'Where's the plan? How are you going to sustain it?' We're working. Today was just the first step. … How do we not let this go and all of a sudden down the road we're doing the same thing we've always done?

"I really think with the players we have in this locker room that we'll be able to do something that's sustainable for a long time."

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