“I’m not sad. I don’t want your pity. I want change.”
That quote from Letetra Widman, the sister of Jacob Blake, was placed all over the top of SoFi Stadium on the day when the Chargers were scheduled to hold a scrimmage in their new home, along with a single word: Enough.
Episode 4 of “Hard Knocks: Los Angeles” came right in the middle of a pivotal time in the world of sports, with issues involving racial injustice running rampant across every sports league over the week prior.
The NBA led the charge by postponing numerous nights of playoff games, while the WNBA followed suit with their own scheduled games in their bubble. The NHL postponed two days’ of games after the NBA’s action, and MLB had teams take their own stands as it relates to their schedule.
Then, the NFL saw a variety of responses. Teams canceled practices, while others decided to stay on the field to maximize their time before the season starts in less than two weeks.
The Chargers and Rams found themselves at this impasse as Episode 4 of their “Hard Knocks” season rolled on, and HBO and NFL Films made sure to put the spotlight on the issues at hand for a majority of the episode.
If you missed the fourth installment of “Hard Knocks: Los Angeles,” or just need a refresher on all of the important discussions that went on, here is a full recap and review to get you caught up:
The episode starts in Rams head coach Sean McVay’s office, as Rams Director of Communications Artis Twyman shows McVay the video of the incident involving Blake, who was shot seven times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“Are you f—ing kidding me?” McVay bluntly asks “Wait, are you f—ing kidding me?”
McVay notes that Blake was “walking away from them,” before repeating his question that started the episode.
“Are you kidding me? Oh my God,” McVay said. “What the f— is wrong with people? That is awful, that makes me sick.”
Instead of the usual “Hard Knocks: Los Angeles” intro video, viewers only get a black-and-white version of the Hard Knocks logo on the screen, before quickly returning to the important topic at hand.
As the episode resumes, someone comes to McVay’s door to ask if he’d ever think about canceling the following day’s practice, while McVay admits that he had been debating the same thing.
“Think about it for a little while,” the person off camera said.
While McVay is left to ponder all of the questions he’s left with, including how to get his team ready for the season “with the world on fire,” in the words of Liev Schreiber, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn faces the same issues.
The episode shifts back to August 23, as wide receivers coach Phil McGeoghan returns to the spotlight after lots of screen time in recent episodes. This time? He’s auditioning for a future career in broadcasting, narrating over highlights of Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams.
After a large focus on Mike Evans and his talent last week, Williams gets the opportunity to shine, as coaches and players alike share their praise during his performance in practice.
Unfortunately, as Lynn requests full-speed reps, Williams deals with some bad luck. He finds himself wide-open on a deep route that the quarterback didn’t see, so the offense decides to give him another opportunity and let the quarterback make it right.
As Tyrod Taylor launches one downfield, however, Williams fails to come up with the ball amid tough defensive coverage, and lands awkwardly on his shoulder. The reaction? Rather blunt from McGeoghan, and rightfully so.
“S—, f— me,” McGeoghan said. “F—.”
Lynn notices that Williams is down on the field after the play, and runs over to ask what happened as Williams stands up and goes back down onto a knee.
As Williams walks off the field in pain alongside a trainer, Lynn asks if he’ll be alright and Williams shakes his head. Viewers then find out that the wide receiver sprained his shoulder, which will sideline him for a few weeks.
Elsewhere at Chargers camp, rookie quarterback Justin Herbert struggles at practice while trying to lead the offensive huddle. As he gets sacked, he has players barking at him, saying, “It’s not Washington State!”
“Obviously I know that,” Herbert tells a coach at practice.
While Lynn discusses Herbert’s struggles with the media, quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton and Taylor try to get Herbert to keep his head up.
“As long as it doesn’t break his spirit, I think it’s an opportunity for great growth,” Lynn told media members.
Back at Rams camp, another rookie is having an easier time: wide receiver Van Jefferson.
McVay praises the rookie wideout, but a few battles against star cornerback Jalen Ramsey bring Jefferson back down to Earth after a solid showing in practice highlights.
Ramsey picks off the quarterback in the end zone on a pass intended for Jefferson, and the defense collectively takes it to the house for a touchdown.
“Encouraging how our defense is looking,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff said. “I said, all I wanted was a top 10 defense.”
The Rams deliver their first in-person cuts on “Hard Knocks” this summer, letting go of rookie quarterback Josh Love and rookie linebacker Brian London II in order to free up space for two new linebackers.
“It’s gotta be a bad feeling man,” McVay said.
“It’s one I’ve never lived through.” Rams general manager Les Snead said.
At Chargers camp, Lynn and an assistant coach discuss the impact of the unique training camp and lack of preseason on players who are on the bubble, and highlights show off Lynn’s past as a running back after being signed as an undrafted free agent with the Broncos.
Two Super Bowl wins later, and Lynn finds himself as the coach of the Chargers, mentoring running backs during drills.
“Use your imagination a little bit,” as Lynn provides one of the more fun drills to watch of training camp: running backs clearing stacked up pads to mimic a dive over a pile and across the goal line.
Running back Austin Ekeler shines in this drill, clearing five pads and being declared the “champion” by Lynn.
Away from the offense, undrafted free agent and rookie nose tackle Breiden Fehoko gets the chance to shine, repeating the phrase, “Show up on tape” to himself as he warms up. Fans get a glimpse at his work during practice, and a glance at a family FaceTime away from the field, as well.
“It’s been good, the standard is raised higher,” Fehoko told his family as he described his training camp experience. “You gotta bring your A-game everyday. You guys keep me going.”
“Proud of you, man,” Fehoko’s father Vili said. “Keep working, man. You’re making us proud.”
The shine continues on Chargers players this week, with Herbert getting a second chance to make an impression on the “Hard Knocks” audience. He shows off the deep ball and some precision, and even pulls off a “graduate-level rep,” according to Hamilton.
The attention shifts elsewhere from here, however, as the news breaks about the Milwaukee Bucks deciding not to play their playoff game against the Orlando Magic as a result of the Jacob Blake shooting.
As a result, the NBA postpones its slate of games, and we come back to McVay and Twyman in McVay’s office while they discuss the incident.
“What do you think when you see that?” McVay asked.
“I think more about the people this has happened to with no video,” Twyman said. “You just feel helpless because this keeps happening.”
All sports begin to see their respective dominoes fall, and the NFL starts to see teams cancel their practices.
For the Chargers, however, Lynn doesn’t see a positive impact from canceling the team’s work for the day.
“I don’t believe canceling a practice is going to make a difference,” Lynn said. “I’m going to back you, but if you feel like that’s what you want to do as a team, you guys have to let me know this.”
Back at Rams camp, McVay converses with a team leadership group, saying that “it’s important for me to be listening more than I’m talking.”
“What does canceling practice change?” Rams wide receiver Robert Woods said. “Be the change right there in that moment, versus some words.”
“We need to show up somewhere.”
After hearing from other players and coaches, McVay references the ability for NFL teams to utilize “strength in numbers,” all while his players check their phones and discuss the current events with their teammates.
“Don’t let sports being around distract you from the more important piece here,” Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp said.
Woods has a discussion with Kupp at practice, while Rams running backs coach Thomas Brown talks with his players during a meeting, saying being a coach “is not who I am or what i represent.”
“If you do nothing, nothing will change,” Brown said. “If we’re not going to be at the forefrotn of that, don’t expect anybody else to.”
“We behind closed doors talking about s—, and then publicly, you don’t do a damned thing.”
The attention then returns to the Chargers, who are scheduled to participate in a scrimmage at SoFi Stadium that day.
As players and Lynn show their appreciation for the beauty of SoFi Stadium, announcers Matt Smith and Daniel Jeremiah break down the events from the day. Meanwhile, players like Denzel Perryman and Storm Norton weigh the positives and negatives of practicing.
“From a football aspect, this is a great opportunity for a lot of people,” Perryman said, before shifting gears to the topic at hand. “It’s way bigger than football.”
“Crazy times we’re living in.”
Tyrod Taylor arrives in the locker room as players speculate what his thoughts on the situation were, and he goes out to the field to wave players back into the locker room.
“I gotta make an announcement.”
The gathering in the locker room turns into a team-wide discussion about the issues at hand, with Lynn telling his players to talk it out.
“Just listen,” Lynn said. “If you’ve got something to say, let’s get it out, let’s talk.”
“We’re not going to take the football field until we get it out.”
Assistant coach George Stewart starts things off with a powerful speech, setting the tone for the conversation.
“I’m 62, I’ve lived this life. I’m tired,” Stewart said. “I’ve seen it from age 6 to 62 years old.”
“If we don’t practice today, what about tomorrow?” Stewart said, before telling players that everyone in the room needed to “make a change for ourselves, put our nuts on the line.”
In the packed locker room, one person explains that “this is a moment we can’t miss,” before saying, “I think we gotta go all in.”
“This uprising, we’re making people see the gorilla in this country. Racism,” Lynn explained. “I think that’s what we gotta keep doing, bring awareness to the situation.”
Lynn told players that he didn’t think the team was “in the right mindset to practice,” saying that it is his job to protect the players when they’re on the field. So, the team decides not to partake in their scrimmage, instead talking to the media and having discussions with teammates inside the stadium.
“We’re not gonna scrimmage today,” Lynn told the media. “This football team is committed to fighting for a championship and social justice.”
“I think Coach made the right decision,” Taylor said. “It was an uncomfortable conversation, but it was definitely necessary.”
The episode ends with Lynn unsure about next steps for his team, wondering how to make up the practice that was scheduled to be held in SoFi Stadium.
“Things change, like I told you, everyday,” Lynn said. “I’ll be figuring out what we’re going to do tomorrow.”
The episode ends with no bloopers, and no extra scenes for fans to leave off on. Instead, the credits feature relevant organizations for any viewers to look at if they want to make a difference, before HBO previews next week’s season finale of “Hard Knocks: Los Angeles.”
This season of “Hard Knocks” has been among the most unique for the widest variety of reasons, and it’s a shame that viewership numbers have been down throughout its first three weeks.
The season premiere showcased all of the protocols put in place as a result of COVID-19, while the next two put together a nice balance between the realities of COVID-19, and the usual action associated with an NFL training camp.
The fourth episode, however, will undoubtedly be the most important, considering the subject matter at hand and the clear focus that HBO and NFL Films put on conversations between both teams being featured this summer.
The subtle touches, like the new intro logo and the end credits, combined with the commitment to showcasing all that went on during a tiring and hectic week in sports made this week’s episode something special.
The raw emotion that McVay showed when first seeing the clip of the Jacob Blake shooting, combined with the back-and-forth between Lynn and his Chargers players on what the right thing to do next truly was, all made for great television.
Yes, it wasn’t what viewers were used to, but it was a disruption from the norm, which is especially important in a time where people around the country are fighting for change and racial equality.
Sure, fans missed out on coverage of a major on-the-field story, Chargers star safety Derwin James’ season-ending injury. But, if that’s what you’re upset about after watching this upset, you’re missing the point.
Just like SoFi Stadium, the focus was on what’s most important, evident by just two phrases that tell the whole story.
“I’m not sad. I don’t want your pity. I want change.”