I would love to start by saying that my recent actions are not to seek attention for myself, nor are they to disrespect or defame our law enforcement or military veterans. I love and support our military, and I pay my highest respect to them for the sacrifices they make day in and day out, so that we as citizens can enjoy our freedom and exercise our rights as I am doing now. Contrary to what many people believe my stance is about, I am not anti-blue. I support our authorities, and I applaud any law enforcement who put their lives on the line every day and protect and serve their communities the right way. However, when there is example after example of wrongful murders and no justice involving minorities and our law enforcement, I feel obligated to speak up for change.
A conversation was started by one of my peers, Colin Kaepernick. The topic of this conversation is that racial, social and economic inequality is very real in this country, and it is time for a real change with real results. I took a knee to keep that conversation going and to show solidarity with my peers who feel just as strongly about this issue as I do, in the hopes to create awareness to those who don't know or don't acknowledge these issues in our society exist. I am all for equality and unity. I understand that there are many different perspectives other than my own. I am open and willing to listen to anyone. I just want others to do the same as we continue to strive for solutions because it will take everyone as a human race to truly enjoy the reality of equality and justice for all.
The most popular response I got for taking a stance was “Why on 9/11?” Many felt disgusted with me and my teammates because they perceived our actions to take attention away from the families who lost loved ones on that tragic day. They couldn't understand how we took a stance against the flag on a day where many looked at the flag as a symbol of unity and strength. To those who feel that way, I'm here to tell you that I understand your anger. However, I paid and continue to pay my respects to those brave women and men who lost their lives on 9/11. I shook the hands of first responders, and I told them how much I appreciate their bravery and sacrifice. During our moment of silence, I said a prayer for the families who lost their loved ones on that day. And when it was time for the singing of the National Anthem I placed my hand over my heart as I made the decision to take a knee.
And here lies the conflict I’ve lived with for some time. How can I, as a 26-year-old African-American man, find a way to show love and support for my country, while standing up for the people in the communities that I come from. It could be very easy for me to say this has nothing to do with me personally or that because of my profession I should stay silent so it doesn't affect my reputation or my bottom line. But staying silent during this time was not an option. That was not how my parents, Bernadette and Michael Thomas, raised me. They taught me that through God I had the strength and the voice to lead when others felt powerless or voiceless.
During this time, I ask that my brothers and sisters of humanity be swift to listen and slow to speak, so that you may hear exactly what others are fighting for. Many people in the minority community feel like their lives aren't worth that of others every time they see the social injustices of acquitted trials or lesser sentences for crimes done unto minorities by our authorities. Answers such as “case by case basis” or “it was a mistake” simply doesn't cut it, nor do they rise to address the true need.
Minorities are fighting for justice. I've had many people tell me that they recognize the issues, but our country is better than other country’s issues. However, I don't feel just because we are better we should be satisfied with the way it is, or to stop improving our country’s problems. I had those who said they’d support me on any other day other than 9/11. I have an issue with that because you’re saying to me that there are certain days I can stand up for what I believe is right, as long it doesn't effect the ideals which you deem as more important. I chose to do the best of my ability what I thought was right. I took a knee to keep the conversation going, while putting my hand over my heart to show my love for my country.
The beautiful reality about sports—football specifically—is that you bring men and women from all walks of life and different perspectives together for one common goal. Regardless of their personal beliefs, each man depends on the man next to them to do their job in order to achieve their goal. They need each other. I’ll be the first to admit that in this time it will take everyone from all walks of life and perspectives to work as a team to come up with solutions to make a positive change. I will continue to do my part by partnering with RISE, The First Step organization and many others in the community. I encourage others to do the same as we take steps in the right direction for positive change.
Editor's Note: Due to a production error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the author.