For NFL players, racial profiling often personal
Errin Haines Whack and Fred Goodall, Associated Press | 2/1/2018, 6:54 a.m.
A son who saw a police officer hold a gun to his father's head. A husband whose wife was pulled over driving a Bentley.
These unsettling scenes are among the stories from some of the NFL's marquee players, multi-millionaires sharing tales of racial profiling by law enforcement. It is a troubling concern for people of color that has been at the center of the protests begun in August 2016 by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The protests have waned, but the ongoing issue for players — and the black communities they come from — has not.
The Associated Press surveyed 56 of the 59 black players at last weekend's Pro Bowl game as part of its look at how African-American athletes have long used their sports platforms to impact social and political change. The AP asked the players whether they or someone they knew have ever experienced racial profiling.
All said yes.
"You can probably ask any black man out here and the answer is yes," said Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson. "It's not like this is just starting today or a new thing. It's gone on for a long time. I think African-American men have been (victims) of racial profiling for a long time, by either the things they wear or just by the color of their skin."
EDITOR'S NOTE: African-American athletes have used their sports platforms for more than 100 years to impact social and political change. As part of AP's coverage plans for Black History Month, we will take a multi-platform look at look at how many have and continue to engage in activism, from Jack Johnson, to Muhammad Ali to Colin Kaepernick.
In protesting, Kaepernick and others attempted to highlight the killings of unarmed black men by police, an issue brought into the national spotlight by Black Lives Matter activists after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri , in 2014. But the message was quickly overtaken by fans offended by the players' decision to kneel during the anthem.
"That was the main thing with the protests, to bring awareness so people know what's going on," said Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey. "That's the first step to trying to fix the situation."
NFL players who have protested this season have been in the minority, and protests waned as the season went on. Some players are focusing on ways of addressing injustice off the field.
"If it affects that many people by taking a knee, just stand up, it's that simple," said Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey. "Taking a knee during the anthem, in my opinion, changes nothing. Giving back to the community, being around the kids and people in poverty, I respect that."
For many players, the issue is not one of patriotism, but is personal.
"At the end of the day, we're not trying to disrespect nobody," said Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye. "No matter what happens, I feel like somebody is not going to be happy, but we have a lot of respect for our country and respect for the game."