Russell Wilson can still vividly remember his father, Harrison, teaching him lessons about how to stay safe as a Black man in America.
Growing up in Virginia, Wilson and his brother, Harrison, were taught by their father about places to avoid, when not to put their hands in their pockets, and how to interact with police should they be pulled over.
It pains Wilson to know he'll have to pass those same lessons to his son, Win Harrison, and stepson Future Zahir.
"I grew up being told, 'Hey son, don't put your hands in your pockets. Don't go there, don't go there, be careful,'" Wilson said Friday on 710 ESPN Seattle. "So my awareness level was always heightened, and I never understood why when I was really young, but (did) as I got older, my teenage years and older. Now I have to be prepared to tell my kids that same thing, because it does matter. Going back to when I was getting my learner's permit and driving, my dad, I'll never forget, would tell me, 'If you get pulled over, what do you do, how do you deal with it?' It's a shame we have to do that more than anything else."
The shooting of another Black man by the police—Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin last weekend—led to professional sports almost entirely shutting down on Wednesday, led by the Milwaukee Bucks deciding not to play that night's playoff game. That incident, which came just a few months after George Floyd was killed by police officers, an incident that came just a couple of months after Breonna Taylor's killing, has only strengthened the resolve of athletes who want to use their platforms to create change. Asked if Wednesday's movement by athletes in multiple sports would have carried over to the Seahawks, had they had a game scheduled, Wilson said it would have.
"Yeah, for sure," Wilson said. "Witnessing what happened to Jacob and all the things that have added up to this, it's devastating, it's truly devasting just to watch that. This isn't like this hasn't been going on for years, that's the scary part and the sad part. The difference now is we get to see it every day because of social media and phones and everything else. The world is truly seeing the ugliness of society at times, and what is really disappointing is just knowing that we as athletes try to make a difference, and sometimes people don't want to listen and don't want to recognize that that could have been us, that could be us. That's a real reality. Us as a team, the Seahawks, we're definitely discussing what do we do next, how do we make a change, how do we cause a movement and how do we make a difference? We're in the midst of that right now.
"We don't have weeks, we don't have months, we don't have years to change it, we've got to all do it together, and we've got to do it now. We need change now. We need people to make a difference now, and we're calling on people like yourselves to help us along the way too."
Seeing everything that has happened in this country in recent months—and throughout America's history—has hit Wilson particularly hard because of what it could mean as his and Ciara's young children get older.
"It's been one of the most difficult years of my life observing and knowing that I have children," he said. "I have three amazing, intelligent, athletic, talented, full-of-life, full-of-huge-huge-smile type children who just bring joy and light to the world and anybody they're ever around, and what I fear is that one day they're not here because of somebody else's insecurities, because of the lack of empathy, because of racism."
Wilson noted that for the show's hosts, Danny O'Neil and Paul Gallant, who are white, "that's a real thought that, to be honest you may not have to deal with. The reality is the reality, and it's an unfortunate one. So how do we change that reality and how do we have hope for a better day, hope for change, hope for a life where our children can go to school together and go to the mall together and go to the game together and be in the same car together, and drive their children, like Jacob, and be asleep in their bed like Breonna (Taylor), and simply go on a run like Ahmaud Arbery, you think about that, and the reality is that this is all over America, this isn't just in one location. This isn't just in one place. It definitely hits home for me."
One way Wilson and Ciara are using their platforms is to encourage people to vote this November.
"What is really important for people to influence is to one, lead with love, and you talked about empathy, that's very real, but we also need action, we need movement, we need real change, we need challenge, we need to use the resources we have to be able to make an impact and to challenge and to really have a movement in the process," he said. "The number one thing we can all do is voting. To encourage people to vote—Ciara and I hopped on with this awesome campaign, 'I am a voter,' and it's been really, really cool to see people get registered and start to vote. This year, this election—and it's not just the presidential one, there's so much more to it—voting really does make a difference to have change in the system. So that's really key.