By Ashley Dunkak
@AshleyDunkak

FORD FIELD (CBS DETROIT) – Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush warmed up for Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a shirt with the words “I can’t breathe,” a message intended as a tribute to Eric Garner, a New York man who died after a police officer put him in a headlock and took him to the ground after Garner resisted arrest.

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Video of the arrest showed Garner saying that he could not breathe. Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose warmed up in a T-shirt with that phrase Saturday, and St. Louis Rams guard Davin Joseph wrote the words on his cleats Sunday.

A grand jury elected not to indict the officer who made the arrest, and many have protested that decision.

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said he had no problem with Bush’s decision to voice his opinion.

“I grew up in the ’60s, where everybody was socially conscious,” Caldwell said. “I believe in it. I’d be a hypocrite if I stood up here and told you any differently because, more than likely, some of those protests that Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] and some of the others that took part in non-violent protests is the reason why I’m standing here in front of you today. So absolutely, no question about it, I don’t mind it.”

Bush said he decided last week to wear the shirt and did not ask anyone on the team to do likewise. Bush said the possibility that his outspokenness could cause him to lose endorsements never crossed his mind. He did not know whether he would hear from the league about the statement he made with his apparel.

While athletes sometimes shy away from talking about hot-button news items, events of recent weeks – the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Garner – prompted Bush to leave that undoubtedly more comfortable no-comment zone.

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“I’ve always been the quiet kid, I’ve always been the one to be reserved and to kind of sit back and not really get into politics or certain things like that,” Bush said. “I guess the situation just really kind of touched me and just kind of resonated with me, not because I’ve been through a similar situation or because I’ve seen anybody go through it, just because I just really felt terrible about what was going on these past couple weeks.

“It was really unfortunate what took place with Eric Garner, and hopefully just me wearing that T-shirt and writing it on there, that’s my own kind of personal way of I guess representing him and the rest of the people that have faced injustice or some sort of police brutality,” Bush added.

Bush said athletes do tend to be hesitant about sharing their views because they know there will be backlash.

“We’re afraid to face criticism,” Bush said. “We’re afraid that people are going to send negative tweets and write negative comments on our Instagram posts and it’s going to create this negativity. And like I said, I’ve always been that guy to really just sit back and be reserved, to not get involved in situations like this, but I really just felt like I do have a voice, and it’s okay for me to say how I feel. As long as it’s positive and as long as it’s not – I know it’s genuine in my heart and I’m not doing it to intentionally hurt anybody or bring anybody else down, then that’s okay. It’s okay to have a voice.”

Bush said he has been watching CNN daily, including the night of the grand jury decision in the Ferguson case. While he appreciated those protesting peacefully, he strongly denounced the ensuing destruction by some who rioted.

“Obviously the riots, that’s stupid,” Bush said. “There’s a way to protest in a peaceful way, and I think that’s the best way to do it, but rioting and I think there was a story that came out, some guy got killed, beat up by a gang of kids or something like that, that’s stupid, and that’s terrible. That’s not the best way to go about handling situations like this. I would never condone anything like that, but I was watching that night and I was excited to see people go out and protest, but I didn’t like, obviously, the way that some other people went about it in a negative way.”

Bush said his mother has been a police officer for nearly 20 years, so he understands the difficulties of that profession, but he wants to see more accountability for officers.

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“It’s a tough job, make no mistake about it,” Bush said. “They have a hard job to do. I don’t envy them at all because you see these past couple weeks the police department has been taking a big hit from a media standpoint. A lot of people have been very upset about the events that have taken place, so it is a tough job that they have, but also at the same time, there needs to be some kind of fairness to the average everyday person and what they may face in the streets from a police officer.”