Scott Fowler

Why Vikings at Panthers MUST be played Sunday

Three hours on a Sunday afternoon.

It’s not much in the grand scheme of things, and everyone in Charlotte has been thinking about the grand scheme of things a lot this past week.

We lost our city for awhile. Glass broke. Looters struck. Fear reigned. Police suited up in riot gear and used tear gas to disperse crowds violently protesting the death of an African-American man killed by an African-American police officer.

The Carolina Panthers host the Minnesota Vikings at 1 p.m. Sunday in Charlotte, and to describe such a game as “significant” or a “must-win” sounds hollow in the wake of the Charlotte police protests. A “must-win” is when you bring in the National Guard to make sure your city doesn’t get destroyed – that’s a battle you absolutely cannot lose.

What these three hours on a Sunday afternoon offer, then, is just an escape. For those on either side of the divisive issues illuminated by Keith Scott’s deadly encounter with police, the Panthers game can be unifying.

Tight end Greg Olsen said he hoped the game gave the city “a little bit of a reprieve” from one of the most upsetting weeks in its history.

“As silly as it seems that we play a game,” Olsen said, “I think we all realize games can bring great peace.”

Several Panthers have thoughtfully and powerfully spoken about the city of Charlotte and the need for peace in the past few days. All of them wanted to play this game, too, both for themselves and because they think to move or postpone it would send the wrong message.

Said linebacker Thomas Davis: “This game absolutely should be played Sunday. ... Football is a way of bringing people together. This is a tough time right now in our community and in our city. We need something that is going to bring people together with all that’s going on. ... If you take this game away, that’s going to continue to add to the stress and continue to add to what’s already going on in a negative way.”

The Panthers aren’t trying to dismiss this as a non-issue. Safety Tre Boston, in fact, may protest in some way Sunday to bring more attention to what he believes is the often unfair treatment of African-Americans by the police. Boston, who is black, said he had his own experience in that regard once in Florida.

“I’ve been pulled over for music too loud,” Boston said, “without a stereo in my car.”

Davis said he has tried to use what’s happening as a teachable moment with his sons.

“For me, as an African-American male, to see this stuff going on is very disheartening,” Davis said. “One of the things I had to do as a parent is talk to my boys and explain to them that not all cops are bad cops. Just like cops have to realize not all African-American males are hoodlums going out there deliberately getting in trouble.”

Sunday won’t solve that issue. But a successful Panthers game – and by successful I don’t mean a victory, I mean one that is carried off without violence anywhere except on the field – would bring a bit of normalcy to a community that could sure use it.

Said Olsen, talking again about the shooting and its aftermath: “There are two polar sides to the argument. People are so entrenched in their beliefs as to where they stand that they want to fit the narrative to their own personal beliefs as opposed to just let the narrative play out and take its course.

“There are not a whole lot of people who find themselves in the middle, and the middle is where the change is going to happen.”

This football game, though, will be played in the middle. There are no hidden agendas. There is a scoreboard to let people know who won or who lost. For three hours on a Sunday afternoon, let’s take a break.

We all could use one.