CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson, a six-year NFL veteran, is gradually finding his way to be a leader.
“Everybody’s like, ‘You’ve got a voice. You’ve got a platform, use it,’” Thompson said. “I was just one of those guys [who thought] nobody’s going to listen to me.”
Thompson said his perspective changed in the days and months following his mother's sudden death.
Patty Thompson, known as Ms. Patty, died in October in her sleep.
"My mom took care of a lot of people," Thompson said. "Our household was open to any and everybody."
Her legacy is likely more evident now than ever before, he said.
Thompson modeled his mother, helping provide meals for more than 2,000 health care workers during the coronavirus pandemic. He and his fellow teammates, D.J. Moore and Tre Boston, provided food for families struggling with housing challenges.
“What you see in me is what you would see in her,” Thompson said. “I never knew what my purpose in life was until she passed away, and now it makes sense.”
Thompson also emerged into a leadership role using his voice and platform to advocate for racial and social justice reform. The Panthers' linebacker called several of his teammates and encouraged them to join him for a justice walk through Freedom Park in response to George Floyd's murder and other cases of police brutality.
“How we were raised, don’t mess with the cops. Cops put us in jail,” Thompson said. “When you’re taught that, that’s all you know. Just like racism, it’s taught.”
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In recent weeks, Thompson has not advocated for change but has taken measured steps to educate himself, which included a closed-door meeting to share experiences with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s chief and other Black men.
Thompson advocated for the need for more people of color on the Citizen’s Review Board, which is a group that handles the appeals process for citizens reporting officer misconduct complaints.
The Sacramento native shared an experience related to racism while in college.
“This was in broad daylight minding my business and some white man came up to me and was, like, ‘Get out the way, N-word,’” Thompson said.
Thompson, 26, said he was about 18 years old when that happened.
"Oh, I remember it," he said. "That will never leave my mind."
Thompson is teaming up with Panthers teammate Christian McCaffrey, an All-Pro running back, to host sports programs in underserved communities in the Charlotte area to help unify communities among racial and social lines.
Their initiative, 22 and 54 Together, will also partner with the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club of Greater Charlotte and CMPD’s Police Activities League.
Thompson also noted the significance of McCaffrey’s support, a white athlete, and the role he can play in amplifying the voices of Black men in the NFL.
"Everybody watches Christian. Everybody follows Christian." he said.
“We need people in Christian’s position that are white to speak up about this, because you can have all the African Americans who are at Christian’s level speak about this and they’re going to criticize them. But if Christian, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Travis Kelce and all those elite white players that are in the National Football lLeague, people are going to listen. It’s just a part of life.”
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