As a high-profile white NFL player, Joe Burrow's statement on George Floyd's death is significant

Joe Burrow hasn’t stepped into a Cincinnati Bengals huddle yet, but he has already shown his new teammates exactly the type of leader he is.

Burrow, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 pick in last month’s NFL draft, tweeted on Friday 27 words, a statement that spoke volumes:

“The black community needs our help. They have been unheard for far too long. Open your ears, listen, and speak. This isn’t politics. This is human rights.”

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy.

Doing the right thing is significant when you’re the newly minted face of a franchise, in a league that has done what it could to silence those who speak, without having yet signed a contract and with endorsement riches on the line.

UNSPECIFIED LOCATION - APRIL 23: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this still image from video provided by the Cincinnati Bengals, quarterback Joe Burrow speaks via teleconference after being selected during the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft on April 23, 2020. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
Joe Burrow was the No. 1 draft pick in April. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)

After the death of George Floyd on Monday evening in Minneapolis Police custody, we’ve seen athletes react on social media. As the video of Floyd pleading for his life with officer Derek Chauvin, who pinned a knee on Floyd’s neck, spread, so too did the calls for change.

So often, the athletes begging for change are those who look like Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and countless others: black.

In this case, we’ve seen a needed, welcome change. More white NFL players — including quarterbacks — have not just condemned the killing of Floyd, they’ve taken things a step further.

On Wednesday, Texans superstar J.J. Watt said there was no way to defend what happened to Floyd, calling it “disgusting”; Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill tweeted that “everyone deserves to feel safe & protected in their communities. ... It’s on us to use our voices and actions to make that happen.”

Thursday, Tom Brady posted a drawing of Floyd calling for justice with an emoji of prayer hands on his Instagram stories. It was not the statement others have made, but it was an acknowledgement from the league’s most visible player.

On Friday, the tide turned.

The Philadelphia Eagles’ biggest stars, quarterback Carson Wentz and tight end Zach Ertz, as well as the Las Vegas Raiders’ Derek Carr posted longer reflections. Saying Floyd’s killing was unnecessary or excessive isn’t up for debate among the vast majority of people; Wentz, Ertz and Carr spoke about race, acknowledging that while they’ll never understand what it’s like to walk through the world as a black person, they see how it’s not all equal.

Can’t even fathom what the black community has to endure on a daily basis,” Wentz wrote.

Without dismissing the support those recent players offered, they’re established in the NFL. Between them they have seven Pro Bowl appearances. They’re on their second contracts, their financial futures secured to a large extent.

Burrow certainly has a measure of cache given his success last year at LSU, but he’s yet to play a snap as a professional. Given the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, he hasn’t even led a practice with Cincinnati yet.

It would have been easy and to some perfectly logical for Burrow to have said nothing, though saying nothing isn’t his style. During his Heisman acceptance speech in December, Burrow highlighted the poverty in his native southeast Ohio, leading to $500,000 in donations to a local food bank.

Poverty and hunger, though, affect people of every race. Highlighting food insecurity isn’t controversial.

Saying in no uncertain terms that the black community in America historically hasn’t been heard and that helping isn’t politics but human rights unfortunately is, at least to some. Just check out some of the replies to Burrow’s tweet.

He also got a great deal of support, from Bengals fans and non-Bengals fans, from those appreciative of him using his voice.

The NFL, in case you haven’t noticed, isn’t usually big on its players, particularly QBs, being seen as controversial. Before the 2018 draft, it was reported that teams had questions about UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen because, among other things, his interest in politics was construed as a lack of commitment to football.

Because as we all know, human brains can’t hold information on multiple topics at once.

Demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, at the corner of 14th and U streets in Washington, Friday, May 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, at the corner of 14th and U streets in Washington, Friday, May 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Burrow has already been drafted, so Friday’s tweet can’t hurt his draft stock. One would hope that he would have said it even if we were pre-draft. But he is sending a clear message, not just on where his morals are, but what kind of leader he is.

Later Friday, the Miami Dolphins posted a statement from head coach Brian Flores, one of three black head coaches in the league; Flores said in part that, “Many people who broadcast their opinions on kneeling or on the hiring of minorities don’t seem to have an opinion on the recent murders of these young black men and women. I think many of them QUIETLY say that watching George Floyd plead for help is one of the more horrible things that they’ve seen, but it’s said amongst themselves where no one can hear.”

Backlash from some fans or a possible hit to his wallet be damned, Joe Burrow wasn’t quiet on Friday. He did what he believes is the right thing, hopefully showing his teammates, new city and the NFL the type of leader he aims to be, not just on the field but off.

Bravo, Joe.

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