Panthers safety Tre Boston has been invested in social justice causes for years, explaining on the "Rapsheet and Friends" podcast earlier this week that people are starting “to open their eyes” to the country's issues with systemic racism.
But in many ways, the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey, and Breonna Taylor isn't anything new to the Black community. Colin Kaepernick famously protested police brutality back in 2016 — a time when, by commissioner Roger Goodell's recent admission, the league did not listen to players' concerns and did not encourage them to speak out and peacefully protest.
And yet while these issues are not new, the tide has clearly shifted. There have been peaceful protests not just around the country, but throughout the world to collectively make it clear: Black Lives Matter.
So why does Boston think this moment, in particular, has caused widespread calls for change?
"I think we're at a point where people are blatantly seeing that it's not a race war — white on black. We're seeing that it's just everybody against racism," Boston said during a video press conference on Wednesday.
He pointed to individuals starting to understand that Black Americans can effectively be doing everything right in a situation but still be killed.
"Unfortunately, it takes dramatic, drastic measures for people to change. But rather late than never," Boston said. "But I think now that's more of what we're going towards — where people are understanding and listening and willing to get uncomfortable."
Boston has recently had white friends and teammates reach out to understand the issues better. He noted those individuals want to be better equipped to get people to really listen to them on matters of racism and social justice.
"That's appreciated because that's where we're at in the four years that we've come," Boston said.
Four years ago, peaceful protests were not supported by many. Now, tens of thousands are marching to show their support for the cause. Boston sees it as another way for people to show they're striving to improve themselves — as most constantly do in their daily lives.
"So why not as a country can we not continue just to get better? That's where we're at now — we're seeing that, hey, we're looking ourselves in the mirror, this is where we need to go," Boston said. "It's about getting all the right pieces to understand where we're at so we can continue to go on the right path to justice."
Boston was one of five Panthers who participated in a “justice walk” in Charlotte last week. When he came home to his 14-month-old son, Tre Jr., he then saw the protests in a more personal way.
"I never really have had to envision (the protests) being (about) my son yet," Boston said. "I've envisioned this fight being for me, other people's sons, other people's brothers, uncles, fathers. But to come home and realize, wow — we're out here protesting for my son's future as well. For him to have a better future, and hopefully, the next four years are better for him, just being a child.
"So to come home and to see that — man, it's powerful. It's powerful because I've said it before, it's surreal because I never imagined having to protest for the same things that my grandparents protested for. But it was a privilege to be out there because it was my time."
When asked if he plans to peacefully protest during the 2020 season, Boston said it's a little premature to know, mostly because players aren't around one another right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But he did express his gratitude for team owner David Tepper and head coach Matt Rhule, who have each made it clear they support the players' rights to express themselves. Boston, who has received multiple calls from Tepper, said those discussions have felt more like talking to a friend than with a team owner.
And that message coming from the top down is consistent in crafting a culture that can build a connected team.
"That accounts to wins down the board. That accounts to Coach Rhule being the same way, the GM (Marty Hurney) being the same way," Boston said. "Everybody is the same way, and you want to fight for everybody in that brotherhood. So it's neat to see the culture that we're building here in Carolina again."
Tre Boston played with Carolina from 2013-16 and then returned in 2019.