The death of George Floyd spurs outcry among NFL stars, with many channeling Colin Kaepernick's message

Shalise Manza Young
·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·6 min read

The weariness is evident on Duane Brown’s face.

Over the past several years, Brown has not held his tongue on certain topics: he has at turns kneeled, raised his fist and remained off the field during the national anthem in protest of police brutality, and in 2017, a week after speaking out about comments from Houston Texans owner Bob McNair that the NFL can’t let “inmates run the prison,” he was traded to Seattle.

During a chat with media on Wednesday, the Seattle Seahawks tackle was asked about the usual: the health of his knee, how the Seahawks will create offensive line chemistry when they’re unlikely to have a lot of preseason time to do so.

But then he was asked about the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this week, and the weariness washed over Brown. Another case of police brutality and a black man dead on the street, as both Floyd and onlookers begged for his life.

“After what’s happened the last couple of days in Minneapolis ... are we getting anywhere as a society? Do you see any progress there?” Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune asked.

Brown shook his head, his lips arching into a frown.

“No, not really,” he said. “If you know the details of what happened, it’s a tragic situation. Rest in peace to [George] Floyd, prayers to his family and loved ones. A situation that could have been prevented. Someone called the cops on him for potentially writing a bad check and he ended up dying on camera, unarmed [and] in handcuffs.

“I mean, it seems like things like this continue to happen every year at some point ... ” he shook his head again and sighed. “I don’t know what it will change. But it’s sad. It’s sad. It’s been happening for a long time and we’ll see what transpires from it.”

All over social media since Floyd’s death, black people of all stripes — athletes, actors, activists, and thousands more without blue check marks, American and not — have reacted in the same way Brown did Wednesday. They’re tired from seeing videos like the one of Floyd’s death show up in timelines.

Of wondering if this time there will be justice.

Of knowing that Floyd is the latest, but likely not the last.

Not long before Brown’s comments, two of his NFL brethren also commented on Floyd’s killing. Those players are white; it’s been said repeatedly that such voices are necessary in this cause, and that black athletes need the support of white teammates and colleagues in the fight for social justice.

In a call with Texans media members, J.J. Watt said he saw the video of Floyd’s death.

I think it’s disgusting,” Watt said. “I think that there’s no explanation for it. For me it doesn’t make any sense. I just don’t see how a man in handcuffs, on the ground, who is clearly detained and clearly saying [he’s] in distress ... I just don’t understand how that situation can’t be remedied in a way that doesn’t end in his death.

“I think that it needs to be addressed strongly obviously ... I don’t know how you can defend it. It’s terrible. It’s extremely difficult to watch and it’s upsetting.”

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill tweeted on Wednesday morning, “Everyone deserves to feel safe & protected in their communities ... it’s on us to use our voices and actions to make that happen.

“What happened is completely unacceptable.”

Seattle Seahawks tackle Duane Brown is among the NFL players speaking out about the tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
Seattle Seahawks tackle Duane Brown is among the NFL players speaking out about the tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

Why Colin Kaepernick knelt

As Brown, Watt, Tannehill and other NFL players spoke out in frustration and anger, it was a reminder. A reminder again of what spurred them to start using their platforms to give voice to causes and issues like police brutality, and structural racism that so many NFL players have had a front seat to witnessing.

It’s been nearly four years since Colin Kaepernick first sat then kneeled during the national anthem as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, spurred to protest after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police within days of one another.

It has been well over three years since Kaepernick played a snap in the league. Yet his impact on the NFL looms large, and the last couple of days remind us of what an insult it is that the league’s team owners blackballed Kaepernick for shining a light on deaths like Floyd’s.

Banning Kaepernick made those team owners complicit in trying to silence a man who used his stature to bring attention to those who preceded George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in death, and wanting such extrajudicial killings to stop.

But in trying to silence Kaepernick, many NFL players realized their power, and that they can use their voice and platform to bring attention and tangible change to things beyond police brutality — to the unfairness of the cash bail system, to the inequalities in public education, to helping communities hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, to asking the Department of Justice to step in to try to insure Arbery’s alleged killers are brought to justice.

None of those things might have happened had Kapernick not kneeled.

Kaepernick himself spoke out Thursday on Floyd’s death, writing on Instagram:

“When civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction.

The cries for peace will rain down, and when they do, they will land on deaf ears because your violence has brought this resistance.

We have the right to fight back!

Rest in Power George Floyd”

The NFL now touts its “Inspire Change” initiative as if it appeared out of thin air, its own idea to be the best corporate citizen it can be, and happily sends out news releases about the grants it is awarding in partnership with the Players Coalition.

As a reporter spoke up to ask a question almost unheard of in a group interview situation just a few years ago, as Brown’s expression changed upon hearing the question about Floyd’s death, as he struggled for words to explain the unexplainable, it was hard not to be reminded again of how the NFL and players have changed over the past few years and who pushed them to this point.

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