Following the release of a memo on Monday, detailing measures that will be taken to ensure player safety as an effect of COVID-19, the Miami Dolphins are preparing to welcome players back into their practice facilities.
While it is now official that there will not be OTAs or in-person minicamps this month, center Ted Karras and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins shared with the press on Thursday that they are ready to get back to work. But football isn’t the only thing on the minds of the players, and the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic and police brutality will continue to dictate a large part of the 2020 season’s narrative, so allude these two players.
Preparing for a Season in a Pandemic
Five-year NFL veteran Karras will be making his debut with the Dolphins this season—a leadership role that he does not take lightly. An NFL legacy, his father and grandfather both won NFL championships in their time, as has the new Dolphins center, who has two Super Bowl rings from his time with the New England Patriots.
“Any opportunity and job in this league is precious and I’m very excited to continue to work with the guys and be the best player I can be so we can win as many ball games as we can,” he says.
In preparation for the upcoming season, Karras has been working out in the weight room he’s built in his garage. He’s hosted several of his teammates so far, and plans to continue those workouts as more of his colleagues make their way down to the Miami area.
“We’re going to have a pretty big o-line and that’s exciting, and everyone’s been working hard,” he says. “I’m really excited just to get together whenever that may be, but I think it’s going to be a really good competitive camp. Everything is going to be competition and we’re going to have the five best guys out there Week 1 and start putting it together.”
That sentiment is echoed by Wilkins, who acts as the Dolphins’ NFL Player’s Association Representative. “Really, I just want to know if we can do everything in the safest manner possible and that there is a clear plan for everyone involved and that things can be done in an orderly fashion and in the safest way possible, because that’s all we care about,” he says. “We always talk about player safety and it’s bigger than just the players on the field because things like that could affect our family, our loved ones and stuff like that, too.”
Players in Protest
But the Coronavirus isn’t the only weight on the shoulders of Karras, Wilkins, and their teammates. Multiple NFL players have spoken out on the Black Lives Matter movement as protests against police brutality that have disrupted businesses in Miami and throughout the United States. And for Wilkins, that fight is extremely personal.
“What’s going on in the country right now is extremely personal to me because I experienced it with my family,” he says. Wilkins is referring to the tragedy that struck his family when his grandfather was shot and killed by police back in 2011. He shared his feelings on the moment in a lengthy Instagram post earlier this week. “I just feel like it’s my job to use my platform to shed a positive light and be a spark of hope really through all of this.”
Wilkins’ college coach Dabo Swinney has been a recent subject of moral speculation, after sporting a “Football Matters” t-shirt, and the use of the n-word by one of the coaches he oversees at Clemson.
“That’s not the guy I’ve known since I was a sophomore or junior in high school. He’s a man of faith, he loves his players, I know his character, I know his heart,” Wilkins says. “Granted, he might not have said all of the right things. He might have done some things that people disagree with and that maybe I disagree with. But that just shows where someone like me could really be a help to Coach Swinney too, just as someone who is close to him, and someone who loves him. To continue to help him and educate him, and continue to have those conversations with him about things going on with him and the media as well. I’m not going to let anyone create a negative image of Coach Swinney because my experience with him has been great and a lot of other players feel that way as well.”
As the NFL and Roger Goodell have come out in support of players in protest of police brutality, Wilkins remains unsure of what that means to the team once the season begins. “As far as kneeling or anything like that, that’s something I’m sure I’ll figure out as we get closer to the season, and we’ll talk about it as a team and figure things out. That’s something I’ll think about as we get closer to the season.”
And Karras, for one, is ready to support his black teammates. “I don’t really know what my role is going to be going forward, but I’m listening and learning and doing my best to empathize and understand and do what I can to be an advocate for progress and stand in solidarity with my teammates,” he says. “Whatever we decide, I’m going to go with what we’re doing in unison. I want to be unified and do whatever I can to be an advocate for progress.”