It happened just a few miles from the Rams’ practice headquarters. Team captain Andrew Whitworth said the team wants to respond to the tragedy by making a difference, and not only with money.
THOUSAND OAKS – Tragedy is not unique to any individual or city. Rams players all have suffered it in their personal lives, on some level, but now they’re in position to do something for the common good.
Rams players awoke Thursday to the news of an overnight mass shooting that took the lives of 13 victims. It happened at a popular nightspot four miles north of the team’s Cal Lutheran practice facility. The players know the neighborhood. Some live in or near it. They might even have patronized the restaurant/bar.
RELATED: Full coverage of the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks
“It just hurt a lot,” guard Rodger Saffold said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s way too many mass shootings, and this one was so close to home. You can’t help but care about those people.”
So as the Thousand Oaks community grieved, some of its highest-profile members prepared for a football game, but they also remained mindful of ways they might be able to use their stature to help the healing.
On a direct level, the Rams exhaled. As of Thursday afternoon, the organization hadn’t identified anyone with a familial connection to any of the victims. That didn’t make the news any less jarring. When players arrived at Cal Lutheran for their usual morning routine, the tragedy was on everyone’s minds and lips.
“Everyone is affected in a different way,” left tackle and team captain Andrew Whitworth said. “It’s the fear you have that your own kids could be involved in something like that. It’s the fear of being in that environment yourself, or just living somewhere where something like that is happening. You never think it’s going to be around you or involve you.”
Coach Sean McVay couldn’t ignore it, and didn’t try. McVay addressed the shooting at the start of a full team meeting, then handed it over to Whitworth, the team’s most veteran player.
Whitworth, a 13-year veteran, already had talked with McVay and teammates about the ways the Rams might help, financially or otherwise. A full plan is not yet in place, but the Rams are expected to establish a financial fund and also look for other ways to provide more personal assistance.
“You’re looking for an answer,” Whitworth said. “You’re looking for, what can we do to solve this? What can we do to help people who are going through this? There is no perfect way. The way I believe and operate, I just don’t believe that sitting there and wondering is the best. Find a way to put your feet on the ground and take action and get involved in some way.”
The Rams intend to hold a moment of silence before Sunday’s game against Seattle at the Coliseum, then move forward with the players’ plans.
“It’s a sad, sad deal,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said, “and we feel for the people that it happened to. It doesn’t just affect those people. It affects everybody, and our players are genuinely and greatly concerned about it, as we all are.”
The Rams returned to Southern California early in 2016 and established temporary football headquarters at Cal Lutheran, while most of their business staff works in a rented office in Agoura Hills. A large percentage of players, coaches and staff members work in the eastern Ventura County area.
“It’s something that makes you take a step back and gives you a perspective,” McVay said. “I know I’m very guilty of losing perspective. You’re almost in your own little world and it’s all football, all the time. Then you have things like this that kind of re-gather your priorities and perspective on what’s really important.”
Rams team captains such as Whitworth and punter Johnny Hekker have served in leadership roles during earlier crisis, both within and outside the team.
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Next up for Rams: A rematch with the up and down Seattle Seahawks Most notably, Whitworth was with Cincinnati in 2009 when Bengals receiver Chris Henry died late in the season, after he fell off a truck during a domestic dispute. Whitworth, then in only his fourth season, was credited for stepping forward and serving as a leader on a team that managed to win its division.
Last December, when wildfires ravaged the Ventura County area, Hekker delivered supplies to a local shelter, then organized a charity campaign that sold specially branded shirts.
The Rams’ day didn’t get much better. As they started practice, smoke rose from behind a nearby hill, from one of two nearby fires. The Rams ran drills in winds that were stronger than at any point during their time in Thousand Oaks, and forklifts that usually rise to record practice drills remained close to the ground.