By: Will Burchfield
Lions defensive end Akeem Spence took a knee during the national anthem two weekends ago to protest racial inequality and, more specifically, Donald Trump's critical comments about NFL players.
Since then, Spence has been bombarded with hateful voicemails and his father has been denied a job.
"It's crazy, man, and my father's been doing business there for so long. He's met so many people, so many relationships. To see that, it was kind of like a slap in the face because where I'm from I felt like those people had love for me. They love my father," Spence said on Wednesday.
Floyd Spence has worked over 10 years in the construction industry. His company, Spence Concrete Contractors Inc., is based in Navarre, Fla., on the southern coast of the Florida panhandle, where Akeem Spence was born and raised.
Last week, Floyd Spence was denied work by a local contractor out of vengeance for his son's actions.
"He just didn't get the job because the contractor saw that I took a stand and I protested, and he wasn't big on that. He didn't even call (my father). He didn't even meet him on the job site, man to man. It was just a text," Spence said.
"It was just like, 'I seen your son take a knee, I'm not going to give you this job,'" said Spence, without getting into specifics.
Spence was rankled that the contractor dismissed his father so casually.
"I feel like as a businessman, you're doing business with somebody, at least go confront that person. Go talk to that person, go talk to that man, just out of respect. To shoot him a text and for that to be your only reason for not giving a qualified contractor a job, it's just crazy. We have to do better," said Spence.
Spence confirmed his peaceful protest was "the only reason" his father lost the job.
"My dad, he's been doing construction 10-plus years. He's very qualified, man, and he builds great homes," said Spence.
The job, Spence said, was located in Alys Beach, just east of Navarre. Most of Floyd's work, both commercial and residential, is located in this area of the state.
Spence spoke with his father after everything happened.
"He respected my values. He wasn't strong on it, because he's a businessman, he's business-first, but he knows I stand strong on my beliefs and he supported me in every type of way," Spence said. "He's just like, 'This is some of the backlash you get from it.'
"My father is my family, so we suffered a few consequences, but like I told him, man, 'Who cares?' There's other opportunities that's going to present itself, and I hope they are bigger opportunities. Like, man, who cares? We're just going to pray for this guy, hope for the best and keep pushing."
As if the fallout for his father wasn't enough, Spence said he has received several voicemails from people who tracked down his phone number simply to lash to out.
"It was just some harsh words and everything like that, but it's just people being bitter. I didn't take anything from it. I pray for those people because right now we need that in this country. We need prayer, we need unity. That's all I want, man, and that's all I want for everybody else," said Spence.
He said there were "10-plus" voicemails, and he's saved them all.
"I have them somewhere put up. It's no pressure, man. Not trying to make this the only issue, because it's not. It's bigger than me," Spence said.
Spence was one of eight Lions to kneel during the anthem as the rest of the team locked arms two weekends ago in defiance of Donald Trump's comments that players who don't stand for the anthem are "sons of bitches" who should be fired by their owners.
"It's just crazy and it's wrong. It shouldn't be like that," said Spence. "These are hard-working people who give back to the community. Our owners are the same way, and they have the utmost respect for us and we have the utmost respect for our country and our flag. For our head guy to say something like that about our owners, what they should do — no, man. I can't. Right is right, wrong is wrong."
Spence stood during the anthem last weekend in Minnesota following a team meeting in which Lions owner Martha Ford told the players she would donate money toward causes of their choosing if they stood for the anthem. Only two players, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Steve Longa, remained on a knee.
"We didn't want to make the kneeling a big issue because, of course, the thing we're here to do is win ballgames. That's where we're trying to get done...but at the same time, man, you can't close your eyes to what's going on in the country," Spence said.
Spence runs a charity foundation in Florida and is committed to getting involved locally.
"As some of the people like to say on my (Facebook) timeline, 'Just spoiled NFL players.' Let's not be that," Spence said. "Let's get out and do stuff in the community. I'm down for that and these guys are and the Ford family is."
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