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On and off the field, Charles Leno eager to be a difference-maker

The Bears denied his quest to go to Kenosha in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake. But the veteran left tackle still wants to be active in spreading “awareness ... compassion ... and understanding for others” to promote racial justice.

Chicago Bears v Arizona Cardinals
Charles Leno, a seventh-round draft pick from Boise State in 2014, has been the Bears’ starting left tackle since 2015.
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The Bears’ cancellation of practice last week in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was more than a statement to left tackle Charles Leno. It was a call to action.

Leno not only wanted to take a stand, he wanted to get involved in community activities to help spread ‘‘awareness . . . compassion . . . and understanding for others.’’ He tried to take it a step further by going to Kenosha — just 30 miles from Halas Hall — to try to make a difference.

‘‘I talked to the Bears about it,’’ Leno said after practice Wednesday. ‘‘Due to COVID and due to [safety] concerns, that is off-limits. But we are still trying to figure out ways we can help. That’s where we are right now. We’re still trying to figure out ways we can impact the community and help other communities all around us in the United States.’’

Wednesday marked the second time in eight days that Leno was made available to the media, a rare occurrence in the days of COVID-19. So it was presumed that Leno had something to say. Indeed, he did.

The proximity of Kenosha to Halas Hall — ‘‘right in our backyard,’’ he said — struck a particular chord for the Bears and especially Leno. Football players are conditioned to ‘‘bunker down’’ and insulate themselves from any distractions during the season, whether it’s a quarterback controversy or real-world events. So when players such as Leno embrace an emotional cause such as the protest against racial injustice — a week before the regular season begins, no less — it speaks volumes. And Leno has done that twice.

‘‘As players, we wanted to take a stand and just let everybody know that what’s going on right now in our society, we have a different perspective on it,’’ Leno said. ‘‘Because we’re professionals, everybody looks to us and praises us. Especially me being a Black player, being a Black male, they praise me for what I’m doing.

‘‘But there are other Black males out there who are getting mistreated. That’s what our stance was, and that’s what we wanted to get across.’’

It remains to be seen what effect professional athletes in the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball had in taking a stand after the shooting. The idea that any protest — symbolic, peaceful or violent — is going to end systemic racism in a week, a month or six months is a fallacy. In the fight for equality, progress is often as slow as it is painful.

More than 57 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘‘I Have a Dream’’ speech at the March on Washington, activists for racial justice still are trying to strike a delicate balance: acting with ‘‘the urgency of now’’ while maintaining ‘‘the high plane of dignity and discipline’’ to motivate politicians, change attitudes and ‘‘make real the promises of democracy.’’

Peaceful protest doesn’t seem to make an impact. Looting and rioting are detrimental to the cause. Where is the middle ground? It doesn’t even seem to exist at this point. The symbolic protests by the Bears and many NFL teams last week were a worthy attempt to promote a level of awareness that leads to action. They might seem inconsequential now, but they are small steps on the road to progress.

The next step is the kind of action Leno wants to be a part of.

‘‘Being the closest team to it, we wanted to stake a stand,’’ Leno said. ‘‘Hopefully we did that. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do, still have a ton of work to do — whether it’s in the field of being in Kenosha and being in Chicago, just all around the United States of America.’’