Though short-lived, the Milwaukee Bucks’ wildcat strike last week has recalibrated many people’s expectations of what is possible when it comes to professional athletes speaking out on social justice issues. Over the last week, teams from various professional sports leagues, including the NFL and MLB, canceled practices or games. For some, it was a necessary time for reflection; for others, it was a moment to call greater attention to systemic racism and a lack of police accountability over the deaths of Black Americans.
Among the teams that canceled practice this past weekend were the Seattle Seahawks. During a Zoom conference call with reporters over the weekend, head coach Pete Carroll called on his fellow coaches to be more vocal about racial injustice, reports the Washington Post.
“All coaches. Let’s step up. No more being quiet, no more being afraid to talk [about] the topics, no more, ‘I’m a little bit uncomfortable; I might lose my job over this because I’ve taken a stand here or there.’ Screw it,” said Carroll.
“We can’t do that anymore. Maybe if we do, we can be a leadership group that stands out, and maybe others will follow us. But it’s not just for coaches. I just know that I might have a better ear listening to me when I’m talking to coaches. It’s about education. It really is. Education. It’s not about education in the book so much anymore. We all know the history was screwed up. We all know that. We have to learn really what’s going on so we can feel our people, so that we can respond. We know all the issues that we need to address. Okay, so what do we do about it? How do we act on it? How do we help?”
The shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 23 has been a tipping point for a lot of professional athletes, who have been more vocal about police brutality and systemic racism in recent months. The WNBA and the NBA have already made racial justice messaging front and center in their games—“Black Lives Matter” signage has been painted onto courts, and some athletes have been wearing uniforms and shoes bearing the names of prominent victims of police killings, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The NFL has recently followed suit, with the league allowing its players to similarly display on their helmets the names of people killed by violent vigilantes or law enforcement.
But with racist violence going unabated throughout the country, the most prominent athletes, coaches and commentators in American sports are publicly grappling with their personal role and responsibilities to the movement for racial equality.
Carroll, for his part, emphasized the need for white people, in particular, to step up, pointing out that America’s “system of slavery...we’ve never left it, really. It has never gone away.”
“[White people] need to be coached up and they need to be educated about what the heck is going on in the world,” said the outspoken head coach. “We’ve been unwilling to accept the real history. We’ve been taught a false history of what happened in this country. We’ve been basing things on false premises. And it has not been about equality for all. It has not been about freedom for all. Not been [an] opportunity for all. And it needs to be because this is a humanity issue that we’re dealing with. This is a white people’s issue to get over it and learn what’s going on and to figure it out and start loving everybody that is part of our country and that wants to come to our country.”
While white players are being educated, he says, his Black players are “living scared to death.”
“It never was okay; just now that we see so vividly what’s going on, we have to get it stopped now,” continued Carroll, who put the onus back on the NFL’s head coaches to spark change in their locker rooms and communities. “I hope somebody’s listening, because we have to create the change and we’ve got to be the change to get that done. Coaches, let’s let us be the ones. Lead in your communities. We’re in communities everywhere across this country; we’re all over the place in all the different sports. Hear me. Let’s go. Let’s get this done.”