During an offseason in which his leadership (fairly) came under criticism regarding the DeAndre Hopkins trade, Bill O’Brien managed to make some amends last Wednesday by coming out with one of the best statements amongst NFL personnel regarding the George Floyd protests which have enveloped daily life. I won’t even clip the thing, I would urge you to watch the entire thing:
This is a period in which white people are meant to do a lot of listening, and a lot of soul-searching. Our role in this protest is to find our inner Pee Wee Reese: Accept that systemic racism exists, listen to our black brothers and sisters on how that came to be, and take drastic action to change course. Becoming an ally is something that you can do on your own and in your own way.
For some of you, that will be telling a friend that they have crossed the line. For some of you, that will be protesting. For some of you, that will be donating to protest causes. And, for some of you, that will be using your platform for good. If you are totally at a loss for something to do, let me recommend Corinne Shutack’s 75 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice, most of which can be done without leaving your house.
Bill O’Brien used his platform for good, and that is worthy of praise. In fact, as much as I am against the Anthony Weaver hire as a pure football move, I think it is wonderful that O’Brien has shown that he will take actions to promote a black coach into a position of power. That’s something that is shockingly rare these days both in the professional ranks and the college ranks:
I think to fully talk about how heartening this is, we need to also reckon with the past that the Texans have left behind. Owner Bob McNair notably clashed with his black players multiple times, notably including giving a weird rant to players after Barack Obama was elected president. And, of course, the “can’t have the inmates running the prison,” comment that led DeAndre Hopkins to walk out of practice. For more on the undertones of this segment of Texans history, I fully recommend listening to Arian Foster’s podcast with Duane Brown. That goes over a lot of what happened with Brown’s holdout, the 2017 kneeling protests, and the player perspective on McNair’s actions, which he never really apologized for.
The Texans watched Deshaun Watson get hurt when they were 3-4. Tom Savage and T.J. Yates started games for them instead of Colin Kaepernick, and the Texans scored more than 16 points in a game one more time over the course of the entire season. One which ultimately led to McNair giving a deposition to Kaepernick’s legal team. Of course, money is political speech as well, and McNair was one of many NFL owners to give to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign that was so, so, obviously racist. People twisted every which way but to see it the way it was, but you don’t run on building a wall without pandering to xenophobia and bigotry.
Also, though this obviously won’t be corroborated on record in any real way because both sides have what they want now, we just dealt with the baby momma comments on Hopkins less than three months ago. I don’t know how much we are supposed to factor that in to how we feel about today, but I think it’s important to bring them up.
This is a team that has a less-than-stellar record of being on the right side of history with regards to racism. I think what happened this week was a large step towards erasing that. I think it’s important that Cal McNair spoke about it even if I didn’t find what he had to say particularly interesting or noteworthy. I think it says a lot about where we are in history today, and how big the moment is, that things have changed so much from 2017.
The actions are the hard part
It is very easy to say that you are willing to listen. The willingness to change, though, is something that is going to become a lot harder. Because when you listen to black Americans, they aren’t always going to tell you things you want to hear.
Ultimately, as Michael Thomas said in his video conference presser (full video here), this is a story about injustice. The reason politicians are so interested in ending these protests by any means necessary is because they work. Breonna Taylor’s case has been reopened since the protests started. George Floyd’s killer was charged, and the three cops who watched were charged as well, because of the pressure and emphasis that this has brought.
What we have learned from weeks of protests is that the cops are willing to beat people with impunity, even when the whole world is watching, because nobody will hold them accountable. There are Twitter threads of hundreds of examples of cops beating up peaceful protesters.
Stuff like this has been happening since black people were brought to America. I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert scholar on the subject of racism — I was one of three white people in a college African-American history course, and also I was This Week years old when I learned about the Tulsa Race Riots — but thanks to camera phones we can no longer deny what is happening in front of our eyes. We can no longer what-about our way out of racism. It is on display every night in America if you want to look for it.
Justice has been running into a problem for essentially my entire lifetime: There’s not a lot of money in it. Major corporations — including the NFL — have so much power that they can field entire armies of talking points to sway people from the truth. It was and has been how the NFL has operated on Kaepernick’s blackballing, and it will likely continue to be an issue no matter how much money gets set aside for funds.
So to the people who are new to the cause, looking for a way to help, I would say that the No. 1 thing you have to come at this with is the idea that listening isn’t going to give you answers you want to hear. You’re going to hear talk about defunding the police, and that’s going to immediately give you a lot of pause because of how you were brought up and what they are supposed to mean to you. The tape doesn’t lie. You’re going to hear about reparations and that’s going to tingle your fairness sensors even though Native American and Japanese-American people were given some equity for what happened to them. On an NFL level, the commissioner’s office is going to have to reckon with what happened to Kaepernick and his closest friends, as well as how they got there. Racial sensitivity training for cops isn’t going to cut it, an NFL team signing Kaepernick isn’t going to make up for how he was blackballed all on its own.
Your job as an ally? Listen anyway. Read what drives this desire for justice. Ask good faith questions about the steps that are necessary, and support reforms. It may very well be the point that this transcends political party, and that protests may need to continue for a long time for people in charge to get the message.
That the conversation has been normalized instead of shut down immediately is a good start.