Stanford in the NFL, Week 1: Michael Thomas’ social justice statement

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Former Cardinal and current Texans second-string safety Michael Thomas played sparingly in his team’s season opener on Thursday against the Kansas City Chiefs. The eight-year veteran did not record a tackle in his team’s loss and saw the field primarily on special teams. 

However, his contributions to Week 1 of the NFL were felt far beyond what appeared in the box score.

Thomas, a vice president for the NFL Players Association, worked with teammate Kenny Stills to design social justice shirts worn by players across the league in pregame warmups. The shirts read “INJUSTICE AGAINST ONE OF US IS INJUSTICE AGAINST ALL OF US” on the front and “END RACISM” on the back.

“It’s a message of unity,” Thomas said to Jerry Bembry of The Undefeated. He helped create the T-shirt company last year with Houston artist Willie Holmes.

“Honestly, I can’t put into words how I’m feeling going into the game,” Thomas said to Bembry. “A year ago, me and my team put together a company. This week, every player in the league is going to be wearing a shirt I had a hand in designing. Just surreal.”

Elsewhere in the NFL, Thomas’ former teammate at Stanford and current New York Giants tight end Levine Toilolo recorded his first catch of the year, a 13-yard reception, while playing in the first Monday Night Football game of the season.

Fellow Cardinal and Giant tight end Kaden Smith matched Toilolo’s output and then some, finishing with two catches and 17 yards in the team’s losing effort. Both Smith and Toilolo, the second and third stringers at the Giants’ tight end position, had better offensive nights than starter Evan Engram (two catches, 9 total yards).

Two other former Cardinal turned NFC East tight ends got their seasons started this weekend. Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles caught three passes for 18 yards and a touchdown, while Dallas Cowboys’ Dalton Schultz hauled in one reception for 11 yards. 

Since 2010, Stanford has seen eight tight ends drafted, the most in the nation. Austin Hooper, the lone remaining active Cardinal player at the position, secured two catches for 15 yards in his Cleveland Browns debut. 

Tight end Colby Parkinson, the Seattle Seahawks’ fourth round draft pick in 2020, was inactive this week, opening the season on the non-football injury list. Fellow 2020 draftee defensive end Casey Toohill suited up for the Eagles on Sunday, but did not see the field in his team’s loss.

Although no former Cardinal tight end finished with more than 20 yards or three catches, each will look to see their roles expand as the season progresses.

Despite this collective slow start at the tight end position, a certain Carolina Panthers running back picked up the slack for the Cardinal cohort. Fresh off signing a record-breaking contract extension in April, Christian McCaffrey picked up right where he left off at the end of last season. He rushed for 96 yards on 23 carries and chipped in another three receptions for 38 yards in the passing game while finding the end zone twice in a 34-30 loss to the Oakland Raiders.

The clear focal point of the Panthers’ offense, McCaffrey will look to lead his team into the win column next week against the Buccaneers. 

Contact Jeremy Rubin at jjmrubin ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Jeremy Rubin '23 is one of the sports section's Managing Editors for Vol. 258. A lifelong Yankees, Knicks and Jets fan, this New Yorker spends his free time devouring all forms of sports content or jamming out to music. Contact him at jjmrubin 'at' stanford.edu.