Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Santana Dotson met George Floyd only once, but it was an interaction he never forgot and forged a bond that would never be broken.
For the two would always be Yates High School football alums.
Dotson, a 1987 Yates graduate, was the reigning 1992 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year when he returned home to Houston after his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was asked to speak to the current Yates team, which had suffered a heartbreaking playoff loss.
That was Floyd’s team.
“George’s team went to the state championship and they lost, so when I came back after my rookie season, I spoke to the team and we were introduced,” Dotson recalled in a phone interview from his home in Houston. “We were looking eye to eye and there weren’t many kids in the room as tall as me.”
At first, Dotson didn’t make the connection between what happened in Minneapolis last week — when Floyd, who is black, was killed by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin — as the man he knew from his high school. A memorial was held for Floyd on Thursday in downtown Minneapolis.
“I did not realize right away, and then one of my high school coaches reached out to me to let me know that’s who in fact it was,” Dotson said. “Coming up in our community, everyone has a nickname. His nickname from his family and from the football team was ‘Big Freak’ — as in Super Freak because he was a basketball player and football player. When I went back and talked to the team, we were eye to eye. He had to be 6-5 or 6-6 then, so thus the nickname.”
It was their only face-to-face meeting.
“But he’s a hometown guy,” Dotson said. “And he’s part of the brotherhood that is and was Yates football.”
Dotson, who played 10 NFL seasons and was part of the Green Bay Packers Super Bowl teams in 1996 and 1997, has lived in Houston since he retired.
“The thing to me is there’s no difference in Santana Dotson and George Floyd,” Dotson said. “It was just the opportunities that were put in front of us and being able to take advantage of it.
“In addition to that, the only difference I honestly feel is that being on video for nine minutes. We’ve talked about this happening in our communities since I was 7 or 8 years old. That’s the heartbreak when I look at my kids, who are preparing to have kids, and I feel like I have let them down.”
Dotson described Yates as a “community school,” one made up of mostly black students.
The school’s website says it was named for “Rev. Jack Yates, a former slave who eventually became one of the most influential leaders of Fourth Ward Houston in the 19th century. Reverend Yates founded both Bethel and Antioch Baptist Churches, around which the Fourth Ward grew, and sponsored many other churches and schools in hopes of developing youth as leaders.”
“It’s a school full of pride, full of tradition,” Dotson said. “My grandmother, who is 101 years old and still living, she was in the first graduating class at Jack Yates. My dad, my aunts, they all went through Yates High School. When I say it is a community school, it really is.”
Dotson has taken part in vigils, along with several of his former Yates teammates, in the days since Floyd’s death.
“It’s tremendous pain,” he said. “These things honestly have been there, but when it hits so close to home, it’s tremendous pain. I’m 50 years old now and I’d have to say the sadness is that we’re still here, meaning that it seems like we’re still stuck in the mud from a humanity aspect and an equality aspect because the things the African American community are asking for is just equality — equal justice, equal rights, equal education. Those are the same things MLK was talking about in ’59 and ’60 and here we are 50, 60 years later, and we’re still talking about the same thing.”
Dotson was aware of the video message the current Packers players and coach Matt LaFleur released on Thursday and wants to encourage even more dialogue about racial divide. The Packers and team president Mark Murphy are making separate pledges of $250,000 to Wisconsin causes that support social justice and racial equality.
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“There has to be an acknowledgement,” Dotson said. “Everybody says the system is broke, but I would dare to say the system is working exactly how some want it to work. So there has to be an acknowledge of that, and we have to say we have to go in and correct these things because the marginalized communities are paying for it, and we’ve got to find a way to get better.
“I would dare to say to the white community: ‘Listen to the pain. If you know somebody black, have the courage to reach out to them and just listen. Now is the time to listen. Listen to the heartbreak, listen to the sadness, listen to the madness. The act of even reaching out would be extraordinary to the black community. Not lecture. Everybody wants to talk about the looting and the riots, and let’s talk about the cause and effect.'”
Dotson said the school is planning a vigil for Monday, when Floyd’s body is returned to Houston.
“I feel like it’s my duty to let people know that he was a living human, and he really, truly cared,” Dotson said. “He was a sincere character who would give you anything.”
NFL camps likely to have fewer players
In an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus, NFL teams are likely to bring fewer than the regular 90 players they ordinarily bring to training camp whenever it begins, per league sources.
One source said he believed it’s likely that teams will go to camp with 80-man rosters, and another source said it’s “definitely not 90.” A third league source said he has “heard lots of discussion about 75 players potentially instead of 90,” especially with the reduction in preseason games and teams not needing as many players for camp as normal.
There also are increasing questions from league sources about whether camp can start on time with the number of coronavirus cases around the country spiking.
The NFL also is considering expanding its practice squads to 16-20 players in the event of a coronavirus outbreak; if there were one, teams would have a deeper stash of players to activate to play games.
But the league and NFLPA are trying to figure out the right number of players each team can bring to camp, and that appears to be between 75 and 80. One plan being further discussed is splitting the roster into two groups and having each practice at a different time, no matter how many players are allowed to report to camp.
Again, questions persist regarding protocols, and they are not going away anytime soon. In an abnormal year, the league is deciding on which abnormal measures it needs to deploy to combat a pandemic.
Stadium sponsor FedEx asks Redskins to change nickname
FedEx, which has naming rights to the stadium in which the Washington Redskins play, made a request Thursday that the team change its nickname.
“We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name,” FedEx said in a statement obtained by ESPN.
The naming rights, for which FedEx paid $205 million in 1998, run through 2025. And FedEx chairman Frederick Smith is a minority owner in the team.
Team owner Dan Snyder has been under renewed pressure to change its nickname, with protestors reportedly targeting their sponsors, according to Adweek.
FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo each received letters signed by 87 investment firms and shareholders worth a combined $620 billion asking the companies to sever ties with the team unless they change their controversial name, Adweek reported Wednesday.
In 2014, The Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin asked FedEx shareholders to reconsider the naming rights agreement, but shareholders voted to stick with company officials and continue the business relationship, according to the Memphis Business Journal.
Snyder has been under more pressure in recent weeks to change the name given the social climate following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
Native American leaders want Snyder to change the name, which the franchise has used since 1933. In the past, groups protested the name and tried to win in court. Those efforts failed.
The Washington Post reported that Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives, made it clear the nickname needed to be changed if the team wanted to return to the district.
That stance serves as a potential roadblock if the franchise wants to move back to the district when its lease on the land at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, is up after the 2027 season. Washington is looking at sites in the district, Maryland and Virginia.
District officials had made it clear they’d like the franchise to return to the city, where it played until leaving RFK Stadium after the 1996 season. The federal government owns the land, but last year Norton introduced a bill that called for it to be sold to the city at a fair market value.
ESPN’s John Keim contributed to this report.
NFL plans to play Black national anthem before Week 1 games
“Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing,” commonly known as the Black national anthem, is expected to be performed live or played before every Week 1 NFL game, and the NFL is also considering a variety of other measures to recognize victims of police brutality during the upcoming season, a source familiar with the league’s discussions told The Undefeated on Thursday.
Having recently displayed increased awareness about the problems of systemic racism, the NFL, in collaboration with the NFL Players Association, is also considering listing the names of victims on uniforms through decals on helmets or patches on jerseys. The NFL also may produce educational programs about victims, among other plans.
Early last month, commissioner Roger Goodell in a video admitted that the league had erred in how it handled peaceful NFL player protests of police brutality and systemic oppression, condemned racism and affirmed that Black lives matter, pledging his allegiance to the players in the battle for equal justice under the law.
Also in June, the league revealed plans to increase its social justice footprint by pledging to donate $250 million over a 10-year period.
The league hopes its efforts demonstrate “a genuine commitment to the public, players and coaches and that player voices continue to be heard,” the source wrote in a text message. “This is key to educating fans, and becoming a prominent voice in the fight to end racism.”
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