Trey Lance didn't stick to sports.
Good for him.
Like his head coach and some of his teammates, the North Dakota State quarterback spoke up. He participated in the peaceful march Saturday, May 30, in Fargo to protest the police brutality that killed George Floyd in Minneapolis. He posted pictures of it on his Twitter account.
This is important.
Lance is a rock star in Fargo-Moorhead and the region. He was the undisputed star player on the Bison football team that went 16-0 and won a national championship last season, despite being a first-year starter as a redshirt freshman. In the past few months, Lance's profile has exploded nationally as NFL draft analysts pegged him as a potential first-round draft choice next year.
He stands to be the Bison football player with the brightest spotlight shown on him in program history. He will be on a stage like no other player in Fargo ever was, Carson Wentz included. He will be the most popular, and scrutinized, Bison player ever.
And he's chosen to take that popularity for a walk, quite literally.
Lance is showing he's more than just a leader on the football field.
He's a leader, period.
Athletes walk a fine line in these politically divided times. Just ask Colin Kaepernick. His peaceful protest against police brutality a few years ago, taking a knee during the national anthem before an NFL game, ended his career and made him an enemy of the political right.
Fans, and some media, want athletes to stick to the script, to speak and act in the expected cliches. There is little incentive for athletes, particularly black athletes, to speak up.
Other than the most important incentive: Standing up for what is right and just.
Lance did that, while representing a university in a state that is overwhelmingly white and conservative. A large percentage of Bison fans, perhaps even strong majority, are supporters of President Donald Trump and unlikely to be sympathetic to the protesters.
But they are also unlikely to push back against Lance, because they know him and they love him. His actions might even spur some to look at the protests and the reasons for them differently.
If Trey Lance is willing to march, they might think, maybe the protesters have some merit.
And the impression Lance could have on young fans? Incalculable.
Lance wasn't the only one to participate. Teammates Phoenix Sproles and Tony Pierce also marched. Bison head coach Matt Entz, and other coaches in football and other sports, posted support on social media.
But Lance is the most popular, with the biggest platform to affect change.
Whether the 19-year-old quarterback thought of any of these things is not known. He declined an interview through an NDSU athletic department spokesman.
There is obviously more to Lance, though, than football. There appears to be a social awareness that belies his youth, and it likely started at home in Marshall, Minn.
Lance's mother, Angie, made a passionate and poignant Facebook post in the wake of Floyd's death in late May. She approached it from the perspective of the mother who has two black sons, Trey and his younger brother Bryce. Her words were as powerful as any written on the subject.
"It’s my motherly instinct to help them feel safe and I want to tell them as long as they are good people and make good choices, they will be okay," Angie wrote. "I can’t tell them that – we have to tell them again, that they can die for being black. And, I, like millions of moms, will continue to go to bed every single night with the fear that one of them may be pulled over by the wrong police officer."
"We are blessed with amazing people in our lives who are law enforcement officers, first responders, etc. We need them but this is not about those people, is it?" she continued. "We know who this is about. Do you care? Will you make excuses for why the police responded this way? Will you talk to your children – or will you use your privilege to be quiet? Will you use your privilege to ignore this and simply choose not to even mention it? I will not be quiet, I cannot ignore it and go about my evening. Please be courageous – be brave. Please do NOT ignore this. It might cost you something – maybe a friend or your reputation? Look in the mirror."
Her son is living her words.
He's chosen, with some risk, to not ignore what happened. To stand up and be counted beyond the football field.
Thankfully, Trey Lance isn't sticking to sports.