Pete Carroll sat on the berm next to the VMAC practice field with the rest of his team and listened as player after player shared impassioned words during a lengthy team meeting that had nothing to do with football.
When the meeting ended, with players voting not to practice as scheduled, instead using that time to get every player on the team registered to vote, Carroll addressed the media, giving a 15-minute speech on racism, calling on fellow coaches to use their influence, and on fellow white people to start listening to the message that Black people have been screaming for so long.
"Coming back to camp this year, we entered with so many issues, so many things going on," Carroll said. "The COVID pandemic, George Floyd, social issues, political issues, so many things were at hand. It has just been an incredible offseason and camp, and now we're finally together working. But never before this year has it been so deep and so rich in the exchanges with our players in how they've taken this opportunity to teach us more and deeper about what the life of a Black man is like in America—black men and women. And they've been compelled to speak out more than ever; there's been less fear, less concern—I love that our environment is such that guys are willing to say what they can say and they're OK about that, which we need to hear, because this has been a process of truth telling and reality checks that just brings me to a point where, as we're speaking about all that's going on—and this is about racism in America—white people don't know enough."
Much of Carroll's message focused on the role white people, especially those in power, need to have in changing the systemic racism that still plagues our country more than 400 years after the first slaves were stolen from Africa. Black people have been fighting racism for longer than America has been a country, so it's not on them alone to continue to speak out and to continue to march and continue to fight for equality. It's long past time, Carroll said, for the rest of us to join the fight.
"(White people) need to be coached up and they need to be educated about what the heck is going on in the world," Carroll said. "Black people can't scream anymore, they can't march any more, they can't bear their souls anymore to what they've lived with for hundreds of years because white guys came over from Europe and started a new country with a great idea and great ideals and wrote down great writings and laws and all of that about democracy and freedom and equality for all. And then that's not what happened, because we went down this road here and followed economics—rich white guys making money—and they put together a system of slavery, and we've never left it, really. It has never gone away.
"And Black people know the truth, they know exactly what's going on. It's white people who don't know. It's not that they're not telling us; they've been telling us the stories. We know what's right and what's wrong, we just have not been open to listen to it. 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, it has not been opportunity for all, and it needs to be. This is a humanity issue we're dealing with. This is a white people's issue to get over and learn what's going on and to figure it out and start loving everybody that is part of our country, and that want to come to our country, wherever they want to come from."
Carroll has long encouraged his players to use their platforms, whether that means speaking out against injustice, or launching initiatives such as the Seahawks Equality & Justice For All Action Fund, or in the case of former receiver Doug Baldwin, going to Olympia and getting laws changed. But the players can only do so much, and at some point everyone else needs to start listening and doing their part.
"Our players are screaming at us," Carroll said. "Can you see me, can you hear me? They just want to be respected, they just want to be accepted just like all of our white children and families want to be. It's no different, because we're all the same. There's a lot of people who don't see it that way, but there's a lot of people that do, and I'm hoping that from this point forward, maybe there's a new door to open for us, and we can walk through it together with the thought of doing what's right. What's right is treating people equally, we know that. Forefathers knew it. They wrote it all down, they just didn't do it. They got caught up in making money and they figured out a way to do it, and it meant persecuting and abusing an entire race of people.
At the heart of the current discussion is police violence against Black people, a topic that came earlier this year with Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and came up yet again last weekend with the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. As safety Quandre Diggs heartbreakingly explained a day earlier, "I call my mom every day. No matter if I'm a multi-millionaire or not, she worries about me each and every day."
"We all are seeing the truth of how Black people are being treated in our streets, and really, law enforcement is a huge issue to our guys, because they're frightened for their lives," Carroll said. "They're frightened for the lives of their loved ones and their children. They're frightened, because they don't know what's going to happen because of what we continue to see. So they're crying out, again, and calling for us white people to figure it out and to listen and to fix all of the obvious problems that we know. I don't need to list them for you, we all know it, it's out there. We've got to do the right thing. And we've got to do the right thing by caring for people and loving people because they deserve it. Simple as that. It's that simple."
In addition to calling on white people to listen, Carroll also put out a challenge to coaches to do more with their influence.
"Coaches, I'm calling on you, all coaches," he said. "Let's step up. No more being quiet, no more being afraid to talk to topics, no more, 'Well I'm a little uncomfortable, I might lose my job over this because I've taken a stand here or there.' Screw it. We can't do that anymore. And maybe if we do, we can be a leadership group that stands out, and maybe others will follow us. 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.
Carroll said it's on everyone to combat racism, and "It's got to be spoken to all the different issues, whether it education, whether it's health considerations, whether it's voting rights, all of the different elements that so screwed up, we need to go attack every one of them. We know what they are, they're out there. We've got to stop the people who are getting in the way.
"It's unequivocal, there's no question what's happening. They're living scared to death. It never was OK. It's just now that we see so vividly what is going on, we have to get it stopped now. So 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, and at least get our people to activate. And then there's so many more things to do, here's so many more things. Follow your heart and do what you can do. Like our players talked about today, they live in fear of speaking their peace. I reminded them that not everybody's the same, not everybody's as bold as the next person, but if you are bold and you want to speak out, go ahead. If you aren't and you want to do something else, go ahead, do your thing. It'll help all people. It'll help all of us. It'll help all people of color, it'll help all people that want to come to our country, it'll help the poor people in our country that aren't black or brown, it'll help all of us if we start doing the right thing."
In addition to Carroll and his players using their platforms and players registering to vote, the Seahawks are also taking steps organization-wide to make a difference. In addition to encouraging employees to vote and providing resources to get registered, the team has offered multiple diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) training sessions, held required unconscious bias training for staff, and held a guest speaker series with authors Resmaa Menakem and Robin DiAngelo.