'People are looking for action': Saints' Demario Davis does more than speak out amid Floyd protests
New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis has long followed one of Abraham Lincoln's tenets: Actions speak louder than words.
In the past year, he helped bail an immigration activist out of ICE detention; went to Flint, Michigan, donating money and clean water to the city; and visited the U.S.-Mexico border, delivering backpacks, toys and food to families there.
In recent weeks, Davis has risen to the challenge again.
On Monday, Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner Gayle Benson released a statement in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis last week.
In that statement, Benson acknowledged she leaned on the advice of three players who suit up for her organizations: Pelicans guards Lonzo Ball and JJ Redick, and Davis.
"My conversation with them was just to be honest and to commit to something," Davis told The Times-Picayune and Advocate on Tuesday. "Don't just make a lofty statement of words, because people aren't necessarily looking for words right now. People are looking for action."
Davis said the feeling he received from the Saints in that conversation was that they didn't want to put out a statement for the sake of putting out a statement, but rather they wanted their words to mean something.
That openness doesn't surprise Davis. He said it was evident from the moment he signed with the Saints in 2018.
In October 2018, the Bronx Defenders awarded Davis with the "In Pursuit of Justice" award for his involvement in helping public defenders in New York while he played for the Jets.
Gayle Benson was there to watch Davis receive the award.
"I knew she was the real deal," Davis said of that experience. "She took the time to fly out there with me and stay for the entire ceremony."
Davis also noted how Benson went to the Listen and Learn sessions that he and former Saints tight end Ben Watson organized through the Players Coalition.
So when she reached out about the statement in hopes of creating something tangible and meaningful, Davis was on board.
"When you have organizations as great as the Saints and the Pelicans, and you have players from multiple sports working together collaboratively, we're able to amplify the voices from the ground," Davis said.
Players aren't professing to be experts on all matters relating to social justice, Davis said. They want to elevate the voices of the people, much as Davis and Watson did during their "Listen and Learn" session, which later led to the overturning of a Jim Crow-era law that didn't require unanimous juries for felony convictions in Louisiana.
"That's what we want to be making sure that is amplified: the voices," Davis said. "Humanity will always come before highlights. And we need to make sure that we continue that spirit in helping the people who are on the ground in these communities that are hurting."
Davis said he has already spoken with Redick, as well as Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan and linebacker Craig Robertson about the joint Social Justice Leadership Coalition, the newly created task force that any Saint or Pelican can join.
Davis said he expects a minimum of 10-15 players from the Saints' locker room to participate, but he expects even more players may ultimately want a seat at the table.
"This moment has shown everybody that if you are silent in times of injustice, then you're just as much a part of the problem as the people who are causing it," Davis said. "And that's where we are seeing so many people saying, 'I'm no longer gonna remain silent; I'm gonna do something.' And that's what we need more of."
Davis hasn't stopped there.
He co-bylined an op-ed along with San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, former Arizona Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin and Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen that ran in USA Today on Tuesday.
Davis said the op-ed, which pertained to policing in the U.S., had been in the works for a while, and that the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor served as the catalysts.
Arbery was a 25-year-old black man from Georgia who was shot and killed in February by two white men who chased him through a neighborhood while he was jogging.
Taylor was a 26-year-old black woman from Louisville, Kentucky, who in March was shot eight times while she was sleeping by police officers. The officers had entered her home with a no-knock warrant.
The op-ed doesn't focus on the problem, because as Davis said, "Everybody knows the problem. Let's talk about the solution."
The solutions posed in the op-ed: increasing accountability for police officers by cleaning up union contracts and ending qualified immunity. The latter protects officers from legal liability for violating constitutional and civil rights.
"As long as these laws are in place, then we can't really have true justice. ... We need to either do away with those laws or reform those laws in a way that fits a modern America and that's where we are," he said.
On a personal level, Davis re-launched a version of his Man of God line, though this round of gear has face masks as well as headbands, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
The proceeds are going to Arbery and Floyd's families, Davis said, in hopes that they don't have to worry about money.
"I don't believe like that this was just something that just went wrong, like these people were murdered," Davis said. "We can't allow that, and I stand with these families."
Davis, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, hasn't yet gone out and protested — but alongside Buffalo Bills cornerback Josh Norman, he plans to go to five cities in the near future to speak with local leaders and activists to work together on addressing change in those communities.
Just as he has in New York, New Orleans, Flint and other cities.
"The thing that I that I hope I've shown is, I don't just care about black issues because I'm black," Davis said. "I was down at the border — like, I have no ties to the Hispanic community at all, but I love them as my neighbor, so what length would I not go through to help those people?
"I'm never going to allow hatred to enter my heart and so even in this time, it's all people versus injustice and racism. That's beautiful. Racism, that's a disease. That's a sickness. We need to drive out the sickness and love the people, and that's what I'm about."