If you are a white American and don’t know exactly what to do, how to help in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died last week when a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for eight long minutes, triggering protests and rioting around the country, including here in Salt Lake City, there is one place to start.
Listen to what is being said. Hear what is being said. Understand what is being said.
A lot of people, white and black, including athletes, coaches, leagues, are speaking out about the troubles of our time. They are giving words not just to that one tragic death, but to the systemic racism that lives on in our nation, suffocating people of color.
It’s been that way for hundreds of years and it remains that way, not just in the videoed death of one who still should be alive, but soaked through our society at every level.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement the other day, citing “an urgent need for action.”
Said Goodell: “The NFL family is greatly saddened by the tragic events across our country. The protesters’ reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel.”
He also declared: “As current events dramatically underscore, there remains much more to do as a country and as a league. These tragedies inform the NFL’s commitment and our ongoing efforts. There remains an urgent need for action. We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society. We embrace that responsibility and are committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs and partners.”
But is the NFL itself listening? Is it hearing? Is it understanding?
The league has made some noteworthy efforts to encourage equality among all, donating millions of dollars to worthy causes in that regard. But look at the number of black NFL head coaches, relative to the number of black players. Upwards of 70 percent of the league’s rosters are black, and there currently are just three black head coaches.
When quarterback Colin Kaepernick started sitting or kneeling for the national anthem, peacefully protesting the unfair treatment of minorities, drawing attention to social injustice, it essentially ended his NFL career.
On Saturday, former NFL executive and current CNN political analyst Joe Lockhart wrote in a column that, “No teams wanted to sign a player — even one as talented as Kaepernick — whom they saw as controversial, and therefore, bad for business.”
Whether anyone agreed with the methodology of Kaepernick’s protests, in any case, the message itself should have been listened to, heard, understood.
Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, himself a man of color, said in a recent statement, “‘Don’t ever disrespect the flag’ is the statement I heard over and over again. This idea that the players were kneeling in support of social justice was something some people couldn’t wrap their head around.”
Instead, it initiated condemnation from the president of the United States and a shunning by team owners that sent the man out of the league. No owners wanted to sign even a talented backup quarterback if it would cost them at the gate.
Instead, they should have embraced the message.
Now, cities around the country are burning.
Others are speaking out, too.
DeMaurice Smith, the head of the NFL’s player’s association, recently sent a letter to his charges, part of which follows. In many ways, it applies to all of us:
“Our locker rooms are made up of players from all walks of life and it is in moments like these when we need to remember that expressions of compassion and empathy matter. I am always proud to see that compassion among you and respect the willingness of so many of you who have expressed yourselves in thoughtful, respectful and meaningful ways.
“The country is hurting, there is uncertainty and there is danger. It is also clear that the pain, while shared by so many, has a history of being bore more by some than others. It is as wrong to be willfully ignorant to this pain as it is to use this pain as cover for inflicting pain on others.
“It is impossible to not take this personally. We should take it personally. … At times like this, I seek the guidance of those who lived through tough, if not tougher times, as a guidepost for the hope I need to have to survive. For me, James Baldwin is one who always managed to express the reality of justifiable rage and the imbalance and injustice of a system, with the need to engage it with unrelenting truth and hope. I have always tried to channel his thoughtfulness, as well as the complexity, that there are no simple answers and easy solutions for a history of unfairness. He is still right when he said, ‘It is not a romantic matter. It is the unutterable truth: all men are brothers. That’s the bottom line.’
“This is also the beautiful truth about our locker rooms and gives me hope that, despite the imperfections of America, we can be an example of a more perfect union.”
Cleveland Browns center and president of the NFLPA JC Tretter added this to the discussion, important words that echoed those of Kyle Korver in an article he wrote a couple of years ago:
“As a white man, I will never fully understand the daily experiences and fears that people of color in this country live with. … Some may feel hesitant to speak out as they don’t know what to say or how to do it. Your individual fear of saying the wrong thing is insignificant compared to the actual issues that need addressing. Racism is something that we all must take responsibility to end. As human beings, we need to identify and challenge prejudice, rather than deny it. Silence in the face of injustice only works to protect and perpetuate that injustice.”
Listen. Hear. Understand, then, as much as possible.
And, as the player said it, challenge prejudice, rather than deny it.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.