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‘Help Me, I Can’t Breathe.’ NFL Star Von Miller on George Floyd, Racism, and Protests

4 minute read
Miller, a Denver Broncos linebacker, is an eight-time Pro Bowler and the Super Bowl 50 MVP.

I have real respiratory challenges. I can’t count the times I’ve said, “Momma, I can’t breathe.” “Daddy, I can’t breathe.” “Please, help me. I can’t breathe.” Every time, every single time, someone helped. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to get no help. Since George Floyd died, tears have overcome me at least once a day. And then, as I thought about it, I have felt this pain in varying degrees for as far back as I can remember—at least since the first time I was called a n****r in elementary school. The pain sears me every day, now. It’s an emotional pain. It’s a physical pain. It is the pain of oppression in a country that’s supposed to be free.

I have been so blessed. I grew up in the Dallas area in a loving, middle class home, with my brother and both of our parents. They provided for us, protected us, taught us and loved us, but they couldn’t protect us from the ugliness and sheer pervasiveness of racism. It’s everywhere and utterly unavoidable. After the world introduced me to racism while I attended elementary school, I encountered it again from a high school football coach. I had to engage it several times in college—on and off campus. And now, despite living my childhood dream of playing in the NFL, I continue to experience the constant nightmare of racism. I donated a police vehicle to my hometown in 2016, but when I chose to take a knee for a single game in 2017 during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality, I received hate mail and lost endorsements.

While it’s great that the NFL made an official statement in support of Black Lives Matter and the right to peaceful protest, it will ultimately be up to the team owners to put league policy into action and walk the walk.

I have achieved celebrity, earned great wealth, reached the pinnacle of my profession, and, yet, I am George Floyd. I am Ahmaud Arbery. I am Tamir Rice. I am Eric Garner. I am Philando Castile. I am Alton Sterling. I am Oscar Grant. I am Trayvon Martin. I am Emmett Till.

Many of us have seen this day coming, but let’s not get it twisted. The social upheaval we are witnessing is not about one horrific incident in Minneapolis. This has been building up for years, decades, generations. We can either confront it for what it is and make it an inflection point in the arc of our nation’s history, or we can become complicit in the perpetuation of our disease because we refuse to admit we are ill. This time may be different. I pray that it is different. This time, many of the protesters are not black. This time, the entire country is engaged. This time, the entire world has taken notice. We have really begun to talk with each other, not just “at” each other. If we can find the strength to come together as a people and fight for healing and change, then together we can enjoy the sunshine of our American ideals. If we do not choose this course, we can expect the darkness to remain.

I am not a football player named Von Miller. I am Von Miller—a strong, proud, African-American who loves making kids smile, people laugh and my parents shake their heads. I also just happen to play football, which has given me a platform. My love for our country compels me to use it. My message is this: I am all in for unity, equality and justice. If you are committed to that, we can ride together. Let’s goooo!

Say their names. Hands up. Don’t shoot. I can’t breathe.

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