Over the past several weeks, as the NFL has joined the nation in protest against police violence, several white quarterbacks have opted to use their platforms to make their voice heard in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many have been criticized for their all-talk-no-action approaches, but several have actively participated in sharing education with their reach.
In a live-streamed conference call with Tennessee Titans reporters on Wednesday, former Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill discussed his relationship with his black teammates and the ways that he’s changed his perspective since Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the anthem, back in 2016.
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Ben & Jerry’s said it best….we stand with the black community in the fight against systematic racism, police brutality, & oppression. These are long-standing issues that are going to take conversation, understanding, & action. It will not happen overnight but I will fight for change. Link in bio to donate, sign petitions, text/call local leaders, & learn more about these issues 🙏🏼 #BlackLivesMatter #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd @benandjerrys: Systemic & institutionalized racism are the defining civil rights & social justice issues of our time. We’ve come to understand that to be silent about the violence and threats to the lives & well-being of Black people is to be complicit in that violence and those threats There is good news: the first step in overcoming systemic racism & injustice is to simply understand & admit that there is a problem. It’s trying to understand the perspective of others whose experiences are different from our own. We want to be clear: we believe that saying Black lives matter is not to say that the lives of those who serve in the law enforcement community don’t. We respect & value the commitment to our communities that those in law enforcement make, & we respect the value of every one of their lives. But we do believe that — whether Black, brown, white, or blue — our nation & our very way of life is dependent on the principle of all people being served equal justice under the law. And it’s clear, the effects of the criminal justice system are not color blind. We do not place the blame for this on individual officers. Rather, we believe it is due to the systemic racism built into the fabric of our institutions at every level, disadvantaging & discriminating against people of color in ways that go beyond individual intent to discriminate. For this reason, we are not pointing fingers at individuals; we are instead urging us to come together to better our society & institutions so that we may finally fulfill the founding promise of this country: to be a country with dignity & justice for all. All lives do matter. But all lives will not matter until Black lives matter.
“Unfortunately we’re dealing with a big issue right now that’s plagued our country for a long, long time,” said Tannehill. “I think the progress our country’s making is heading in the right direction slowly, but there’s still a long, long, long way to go.”
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Tannehill Inspired to Speak Out
The events of the past several weeks have triggered a massive shift in sports. The NFL’s admission of wrongdoing, having previously suppressed players from protesting social injustices, is just one instance of the sports world having eradicated antiquated and blind policy. And Tannehill wants to be a voice for positive change.
“My eyes have been opened to the privilege I’ve lived with my whole life just because of the color of my skin,” said Tannehill. He says that the stories he’s heard from his friends and teammates have deeply affected the way he hopes to share their message. One teammate from his time on the Dolphins, Kenny Stills, has had a particularly beneficial impact on the quarterback.
“My conversations with Kenny, and just coming to realize what only he’s gone through in his life,” he said. “Getting ripped out of a car with his dad, and everything stripped out of the car for no reason—they weren’t even speeding—and left on the side of the road. They were traveling—all of their clothes, and everything, bags, strung out on the side of the road. Things like that, where it’s like, I can’t even imagine being put in that situation and having to deal with that.
Stills also recommended books for Tannehill, like The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Tannehill says that the way he has educated himself, with the help of his teammates, has definitely changed his views.
“I think when the kneeling first started to happen, it was a bit of a shock, I guess, because it hadn’t been done before. It was such a big thing,” he said. “And I think that’s the point, right? A protest has to be able to get attention, spark conversation, and inspire change. And I think I had to get past the fact that it wasn’t about the flag, it wasn’t about the anthem, it wasn’t about the country. It was about the injustice and raising awareness and getting people’s attention. And I think that once I got past that fact, I could really support it.”
Bigger Than Sports
Tannehill says he has definite regrets about not having seen the cause and jumped on board back in 2016, but that he had full faith that conversations and awareness, like the ones he’s experienced, will lead to action.
“I think there’s a lot of legislature that’s gonna have to get changed, and that’s way above my head, way above my pay grade. But I think the first step is awareness and education. Educating people on the systematic injustices that have been going on for a long, long time. And once we can have that education, the awareness, then we can all work together to find the equality that I’d hope we all want.”
But Tannehill also believes that sports are a perfect window into understanding these large, societal issues. The sheer diversity on the field and in the locker room allows for a broader understanding amongst players, and Tannehill—who recently signed a four-year extension with the Titans—wants to share that with the world.
“Unfortunately, all of society isn’t able to build those relationships and go through those experiences to get that information and to feel that unity,” he said. “And that’s a little bit of the responsibility I feel, because I am able to experience that, because I am able to have these relationships and conversations, to be able to hope to translate that to broader society.”