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It’s Time to Get Uncomfortable

Jul 10 2020
Photo by
Lemar Griffin
Photo by
Lemar Griffin
Kareem Jackson
Denver Broncos
Jul 10 2020

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself flashing back, again and again, to something that happened to me a few years ago, when I was playing for the Texans.

I was driving on the highway down in Houston, obeying the speed limit, nothing out of the ordinary. All of a sudden, I looked in the rearview mirror of my S600 Mercedes and saw those red and blue police lights.

What’s this all about? What did I do wrong?

I honestly had no clue.

As the police officer walked up to the car, I had no idea what he was going to say. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, but … yeah. Sometimes that doesn’t really matter.

So when the officer gets to my window, he asks me for my license and registration, and I immediately give that stuff to him. Then, almost as soon as he gets those papers in his hands, it’s….

“Whose car is this that you’re driving?”

What? Really?

“Whose car is this that you’re driving?”

I did my best to stay calm, but what he asked made no sense to me.

“Officer, it says my name right there on my insurance card. This is my car. It says it right there on those forms.”

He didn’t respond to that. He just ordered me to get out of the car.

Once I did, he had about 100 more questions for me — Where was I going? What was I doing? Stuff that made no real sense for him to be asking me.

Talk about a whirlwind of emotions. Everything happened so fast! I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. It was more just confusing to me than anything else. And weird. It was like, Why are you doing this? Can you please explain what’s going on here?

Hindsight is definitely 20/20, though. Looking back, I should’ve known right from the jump. I should’ve been more alert … more prepared.

Eventually, all of his questions started to piss me off, and I couldn’t help but ask a few of my own.

“Why did I need to get out of the car?”

“Why are you asking me all this stuff?”

The officer didn’t answer my questions. At that point, he just looked at me and … said I was free to go.

So we both just drove off.

Still, to this day, I have no clue why he pulled me over. Or why he made me get out of my car. I’m sure this experience rings some bells for lots and lots of other Black people out there reading this.

I feel extremely fortunate that nothing happened to me that night, especially because the lifelong lessons I was taught as a kid failed me. My defensive, human instincts took over … not my “driving while Black” ones.

And that was my reminder. The NFL shield doesn’t protect me from racism. My celebrity doesn’t protect me from being a victim or a suspect.

And these past few weeks it’s been hard not to recall that experience and think about how I could’ve very easily ended up just like George Floyd.


Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

Racism and discrimination are everywhere within our society, and there’s nothing at all controversial about that statement. Racism is a pervasive, uncomfortable reality that is deeply rooted in every layer of American society – and that certainly includes within the NFL.

It’s a topic that I am sick of sweeping under the rug. I’m tired of being afraid to address it. I know it’s uncomfortable … but there is so much magic in the mess. Let’s get uncomfortable. We have to.

Now I know what you’re all thinking regarding Coach Fangio and his initial statement about racism and discrimination not existing in the NFL. I don’t want to go into lots of detail and rehash everything, but I want you to know that Coach misspoke when he made that comment. He actually held a team meeting afterward. Coach apologized, but more importantly he listened. He had those uncomfortable conversations. My teammates and I all shared stories of discrimination we’ve experienced throughout our life and within the league. Then, a few days later, Coach Fangio joined me and my teammates for a peaceful protest that I organized in downtown Denver. We marched hand in hand. His presence amplifying Black voices throughout the city.

That’s so powerful, man.

And for those of you who want to pull the millionaire-athlete-shut-up-and-dribble card, let me be clear: That card didn’t mean a damn thing to the police officer on that night back in Houston.

It didn’t protect me. I was just a young Black man suspected of…?

These types of situations happen every single day in America, and it definitely doesn’t just suddenly stop in the locker room.

Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Now, that being said….

That doesn’t mean we have to be O.K. with how things are, or that we have to continue to bury our heads in the sand to avoid making people uncomfortable. It doesn’t always have to be like this. We are not powerless.

It may sound corny or whatever, but I honestly do believe, in my heart of hearts, that we can all work together to help make things better going forward.

Like I said, I’m so damn tired of sweeping these issues under the rug. God has blessed me with the most incredible platform, and I’m sure as hell going to use it.

When I started organizing that protest in Denver, the NFL had not come out with its apology yet. We were organizing behind the scenes. Was I uncomfortable? Hell yeah. But we did it anyway.

If there’s one thing I took away from that march in Denver — my first time being a part of something like that — it was the beauty of seeing people from so many different backgrounds and walks of life pulling the rope in the same direction. There were young and old folks, Black and white, and every ethnicity you can think of. It was players, coaches, teachers, plumbers, bus drivers, lawyers, doctors, store clerks. And, man….

It was just so beautiful.

Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

With me, when it comes to these issues, I can’t help but think about my kids.

I have two little girls, a four-year-old and a one-year-old. And I’m constantly thinking about how what we’re all out here doing now is really going to bear the most fruit during their lifetimes.

I mean, yes, absolutely, we’re looking for change NOW. And we want to see things get better sooner rather than later — immediately, really. But the realist in me tells me that the bulk of any changes that we bring about are going to help the next generation most.

Like maybe if we keep doing our thing — shining a light on injustice, and holding people accountable for their actions — when my daughters get older they won’t have to be afraid of the people who are being paid to protect them. Maybe, if we keep this up and bring about real change, they won’t feel like they have to be looking over their shoulder constantly out of fear of being racially profiled or discriminated against in certain settings.

I have genuine hope that we can get to that place. I believe that can be their reality. I really do.

But then it’s like….

Bam.

Rayshard Brooks is killed down in Atlanta.

New videos are popping up all over social media of police using excessive force.

More Black men and women are getting knees to the neck. Chokeholds are being used like crazy.

Black people are suffering.

Over and over again.

And we’re all seeing this stuff happen right before our eyes, sometimes almost in real time.

It’s painful. And it’s hard not to get discouraged. But, at the end of the day, I just keep returning to a belief that we absolutely can make things better.

We have to do that.

And we simply do not have any more time to waste. This is too important. We need everyone to be working toward the same goal from here on out.

That march we held in Denver truly opened my eyes to the massive potential that exists to spur real change. And I’ve been inspired by so many other protests and marches that have taken place over the past few weeks.

Going forward, we just have to keep this momentum going.

We cannot let up from here.

Kareem Jackson
Denver Broncos