Tuesday evening's virtual Seahawks team meeting started off with a football highlight. A tight end caught a pass in the open field, made a defender miss and rumbled for a big gain. Normal enough for an NFL team meeting, right?
That highlight, however, wasn't of a current Seahawks tight end like Greg Olsen or Will Dissly; it was a 30-year-old video of Stanford's Cory Booker from the Cardinal's 1990 upset win over top-ranked Notre Dame. Booker didn't amount to much in football beyond his Stanford days, but he did become a Rhodes Scholar, attend Yale Law School, and eventually become a United States Senator.
And on Tuesday, Booker joined the Seahawks for their team meeting, spending more than 40 minutes addressing the team and fielding questions from Carroll, players and assistant coaches.
Booker, who was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President before dropping out of the race earlier this year, kept the talk mostly non-partisan, focusing on the importance of exercising one's right to vote, on and on players using their platform to make a difference.
"I grew up in a tradition where athletes were seen not just as people who had reached high levels of excellence in the sports or profession, but really people who understood their larger role in society, everybody from Arthur Ashe to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to people like Jim Brown," Booker said. "These are some great athletes who understood that they could make a difference on issues that matter."
Booker also noted that in the 2016 presidential election, "Over 110 million eligible voters didn't give a damn enough to come out. The problem with that is that you may be one of those people in America, like I am and I'd imagine Coach (Carroll) is, that the outcome of this election isn't life or death for he and I, but it's a life and death situation for a lot of Americans depending on the issues."
Booker illustrated that point by talking about issues such as immigration, criminal justice reform and health care that are so central to the upcoming election, not just at the federal level but as Booker noted, all the way down the ballot to local elections as well.
"The great thing is that you all have a platform to inspire people to get engaged and get involved that often aren't," Booker said, pointing out that ESPN draws far more viewers than cable news networks like CNN or Fox News. "… All of us, regardless of what your party is, the least we should do is encourage Americans to come out and vote not just for the top of the ticket, but to follow all the way down and vote the entire ticket, because it affects a lot of change and a lot of real issues."
Booker noted that players can make a real difference with something as simple as encouraging people to register to vote on social media.
"As soon as you start doing that, you're going to affect the behavior of other people," he said. "It's about touching the lives of others, encouraging others, helping others, inspiring others through your actions."
Some of Booker's most powerful words came in response to a question from Russell Wilson about what is going on in America in terms of racism, police brutality and the ongoing fight for equality.
"We have a poverty of empathy in this country," Booker said. "You have a lot of folks who aren't as aware of what our country does to certain population. The criminal justice system, one of my favorite recent books that spell is all out is "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander. It just shows kind of the torturous reality of our criminal justice system. I went to Stanford and other colleges, and there was tons of drug use going on, but you didn't really have to worry about the law enforcement impacts of it. We have kids getting arrested every day for things that two of the last three presidents have admitted to doing. It's a system that has profound racially disparate outcomes. The drug war has been—the data is clear—much more imposed upon low-income black and brown populations. I grew up in wealthier suburbs in New Jersey, my friends did just as much drugs as I've seen in areas of Newark, New Jersey, but they had whole different justice system. As (Equal Justice Initiative founder) Brian Stephenson says, we have a criminal justice system in America that treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor an innocent. So you have this powerful system that imposes poverty in entire communities—because if you live in a community like mine, 50 percent of the black men have criminal convictions, again for doing things that congresspeople have done, senators have done, presidents have done. You now can't get a job, you can't get a business license, you can't get a loan from your bank. The American Bar Association points to about 40,000 collateral consequences if you have a criminal conviction in this country, things you can't do that limit your economic potential."
Booker went on to talk about other issues that disproportionally affect people of color such as underfunded schools, dangerous air quality levels in places like his hometown of Newark, or hazardous level of lead in the water of cities like Flint, Michigan.
"I could go through hurdles that have to be cleared in communities like mine that were designed to be pockets of poverty by redlining and FHA loan systems that devalued black communities," he said. "All of the history we're experiencing now was baked in by and overtly racist history that really didn't stop until the 1970s when laws were changed that didn't allow such discrimination. We've created this powerful reality in our country where the racial wealth gap—for every dollar that a white family has, black families usually have about 10 cents on that dollar, that black entrepreneurs, even with the same business plans… I could go on about the disparities, but we've just got to start finding ways to do something about it. The first step in really doing something about it is to have all of us realize we're all invested in that. The poverty in the black community costs our country over a trillion dollars a year in economic growth and economic opportunity for all. The criminal justice system itself—no country on the planet earth has ever incarcerated as many people as we do. We're only five percent of the globe's population, but one out of every three incarcerated women on the planet is in the United States, to the tune of costing us billions and billions of dollars that we could be using education, that we could be using for roads and bridges, infrastructure, broadband access and the like."
Booker then shifted the message back to the players.
"And this is why you all are so important, and I hope you understand that—there's an old saying that change doesn't come from Washington, it comes to Washington when people demand the change," he said. "The suffrage movement started with protests and activism in communities, the labor movement started with protests and activism, the civil rights movement, all of the movements that drove big change in Washington happened when the consciousness of our country grew because activists, artists and athletes began to challenge the conscious of our country, expand the moral imagination of our country, and demand that people have empathy for these folks who were not experiencing the fullness of America… I call on everybody on this call, what are you putting out into the universe, how often are you talking about these issues or linking to resources, or following activists who are producing great content that you could just share on your stories or put up. It makes a difference to the consciousness of others when you become more versed in talking about issues that are important to you."
After Booker concluded with a message about empathy, followed by some jokes about his limited football skills, Carroll said, "You would make a great teammate, we'd love to have you on our squad. You're exactly what we're trying to become… You already made us better by being here tonight."