When dealing with certain sensitive and controversial issues that have nothing to do with actual football, Joe Judge knows what he does not know.
He was hired by the Giants, at the age of 38, because ownership believes he has the answers to lift a struggling franchise out of a terrible swoon. The title of head coach is all-encompassing, though, meaning the societal unrest, racial tensions and protests arising from a killing in Minneapolis and the subsequent response from the Black Lives Matter movement cannot be pushed off Judge’s desk as if they do not fall under his job description.
This is not part of any coaching manual Judge has ever read, and when wading into the deep end of emotional and potentially polarizing waters, he is opting for more hearing and less talking.
“Honestly as a 38-year-old white guy, I don’t have all the answers on this,’’ Judge told The Post this week. “It’s important for me to just listen, and listen to our players.’’
This is what Judge has done, often, since May 25, when George Floyd, a black 46-year-old, died in Minneapolis after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, despite Floyd pleading “I can’t breathe.’’ Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and third-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers on the scene are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
Under Judge’s direction, the Giants quickly engaged in conversation, all remotely in the age of COVID-19, with several meetings in small and large groups. Players and coaches shared their thoughts and experiences on racial bias and the ensuing protests. Co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch listened in on these sessions and at times offered comments and observations.
“It was important for me to just listen and not try to just speak to speak,” Judge said. “I talk enough. You find out a lot about people’s experiences that aren’t exactly the same as yours. You find out a lot about people’s emotions of things that they carry around and you want to make sure you support all the players. Make sure they understand you’re not just here for the X’s and O’s. That you’re here for them as a person, that you’re here for them as a player, that you’re here to help them be a better professional, a better family man.”
The conversations, Judge said, did not include anything game-related, and so the weighty topic of players taking a knee during the national anthem was not yet discussed.
Asked if he will support players who decide to take a knee and if he will join them in taking a knee, Judge did not go into specifics but did seem to indicate he will defer to his players as far as setting the course of action.
“We’re going to support the players,’’ Judge said. “We’re going to do what we have to do to support the players. I want to listen to the players and we want to have conversations leading up to the game and how the team wants to handle those situations.
“I want to make sure as a team we’re staying together as a team. Look, I have no doubt the players on our team are going to support each other, the coaches are going to support the players, the organization is supporting the players, everyone is supporting social justice. Whatever we decide to do on game day, and that will be down the line, we’re going to support the players. We’re going to make sure they understand we’re here for them and we’re here to give them a platform where they can make a difference.’’
Judge met with a few players before the pandemic hit and ever since, all his interactions with his new team come via Zoom and other remote connections. Judge stressed “we have to be a team that can have the tough conversations and be able to work with each other as teammates.’’
Action, not words, is the priority moving forward.
“Our players have identified societal issues that they want to address specifically and they’re in the process of connecting with organizations that we can work alongside to accomplish their goals,’’ Judge said.
“We want to make a lasting difference. We want to be very involved with our community and we’re going to work to support the players and give them the vehicle to do so. We’re going to be very involved as well as coaches. The owners have been phenomenal. We’ve had very open dialogue as a team. … It’s been very passionate, very enlightening. We have an opportunity to show 90 guys of different backgrounds working together towards a common goal of doing the right thing for each other, doing the right thing for communities and we can use our platform to do something positive.’’