Kyusung Gong/Associated Press
Tuesday’s episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks: Los Angeles, which was the fourth of the season highlighting the Chargers and Rams, was about more than just football.
Which was fitting for a year in which sports have taken a backseat to far more important issues.
A somber tone was struck right from the beginning, as the episode started with Rams head coach Sean McVay watching video of police shooting Jacob Blake in the back multiple times in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
McVay, who was rightfully stunned, said “What the f–k is wrong with people? … It makes me sick.”
The sports world came to a temporary halt following the shooting, as NBA players elected not to play in playoff games, WNBA and Major League Baseball games were postponed and practices around the NFL were canceled so players and coaches could focus on the fight against systemic racism and police brutality.
It was also another serious topic for Hard Knocks to approach in a season that has largely focused on the preparations for a football campaign amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the constant testing, vigilance, mask-wearing and risk that comes with it.
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn led a virtual meeting and stressed to his team how important it is to create change with individual actions and voting. He also told his players he will back them regardless of whether they want to practice or do something else.
The team headed to SoFi Stadium for a scheduled scrimmage, but Lynn gathered the team in the locker room to create an open dialogue.
“Right now, I feel like a lot of you guys in HERE got something on your mind and you need to get it out,” he said. “I don’t want to take the football field until we get it out. And I don’t give a damn how long we are in this locker room. If you got something to say, let’s get it out.”
Following the team meeting, Lynn came out and explained the Chargers would not be scrimmaging and instead would focus on the social justice issues that have dominated the headlines.
It was a powerful moment, as was the behind-the-scenes access as players explained their emotions and the hurt they were feeling given the horrific events.
There was still some focus on football, as Justin Herbert’s growth was a key storyline for the Chargers.
The No. 6 overall pick of the 2020 draft out of Oregon, who could be the heir apparent to Philip Rivers for the franchise, struggled at the start. Some of his teammates chirped at him that he is no longer facing Washington State, while Lynn said, “As long as he’s uncomfortable and it doesn’t break his spirit, then I think that’s an opportunity for great growth.”
He started showing some of that growth as the episode continued, which was a welcome sign for the Chargers.
Elsewhere, defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko earned praise from three-time Pro Bowler Melvin Ingram for his work on the field and then honored his culture as a Hawaiian native while leading the team:
As for the Rams, rookie wide receiver Van Jefferson earned some of that praise from McVay even though going up against star cornerback Jalen Ramsey was anything but an easy task.
Rookie linebacker Clay Johnston, who has become a fan favorite on Hard Knocks for his lighthearted approach that even included joking around with Green Bay Packers legend Brett Favre in a virtual visit, was fighting for his spot with cuts looming as the Rams brought in new linebackers.
Bryan London II was ultimately let go instead, meaning Johnston is still fighting for his spot.
Still, those roster battles didn’t feel as important with more poignant topics taking center stage in Tuesday’s episode.