When the Seahawks held a virtual team meeting on Monday, there was no talk of football.
Instead, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll gave his players an open forum to discuss things happening in the world that are much weightier than offseason meetings and workouts. Monday's meeting was, as linebacker and team captain Bobby Wagner explained it, a forum for players to "express their feelings, express their emotions and express their anger."
An African American man, George Floyd, was killed last week at the hands of police in Minneapolis, leading to protests throughout the country, including in Seattle, over the weekend. Wagner, who took part in a downtown Seattle protest Saturday before things started escalating into violence, discussed in a video press conference what he is feeling, what he saw, and what he hopes can change after the latest instance of police violence against black people set off protests, and in some cases riots and looting, around the country.
"Obviously the stuff that has gone on the past week, especially the past few days, has been crazy," Wagner said in a lengthy and heartfelt opening statement. "Like many in the black community, I'm hurt, sad, in pain that we had to watch another video of a black man being murdered. Watching him gasp and try to get air and say to the cop, 'I can't breathe,' and basically ask him for life, that's not something you get used to. So I want to say I support the protestors. I understand the message, I understand what's going on, what's happening."
Wagner then called on the media to make sure the violent and destructive actions of those who would co-opt the message of peaceful protestors don't take away from the bigger-picture message he and so many others are hoping to get across.
"You guys play a pretty big role in what's going on right now, because you guys play a part in the narrative," he said. "… I feel like a lot of focus is on the rioting and the looting, people stealing stuff, but we're not talking enough about what started that. The black community is tired of seeing the same things going on and not seeing change. We're tired of seeing people not being held accountable for the actions that they do, understanding that if we were in that position, we would be held accountable."
Wagner went to downtown Seattle Saturday to take part in the protests, though he eventually felt he had to leave when things escalated into violence after a white man threw an object at a police officer.
"Report the peaceful side of the protests as well," he said. "Report the people that are doing good, because there's a lot of people doing good out there. There's a lot of people that want to see the world change and don't want to see the world like this anymore… I just urge everybody to educate themselves, urge everybody to figure out what we can do to make this better. I don't have all the answers. I'm hurting, I'm pissed off like everybody else, I'm tired like everybody else and I want to see something different, but it's going to take some leadership. We don't have that leadership right now."
In an effort to do their part, Seahawks players, via the Equality & Justice For All Action Fund, announced Monday that $500,000 in grants will soon be awarded with the hope to "advance conversations related to reformation in our nation's current policies regarding hiring and training within law enforcement, judiciary protections and accountability, and for advanced education related to the history of race in America."
And so with everything happening in the world, when the Seahawks got together for a virtual team meeting on Monday, football was the last thing on most people's minds.
"Coach Carroll is very aware of the things that are going on, so today we did not speak about football, we focused on what was going on in the world," Wagner said. "We gave anybody the opportunity to express their feelings, express their emotions and express their anger. Because at the end of the day, life is bigger than football. There's a lot of things that are happening that are bigger than football, so (Carroll) provided an opportunity for guys to speak about the things they saw, the things they're dealing with, what it's like in the city that they're in… I think it's dope, because a lot of people don't get to express those emotions, those feelings, and to have a platform and to have a situation where we could do that, it was great. It's bigger than football."
Wagner is hardly alone among his teammates when it comes to speaking out in recent days. Left tackle Duane Brown and defensive end L.J. Collier both addressed Floyd's killing on video press conferences last week, and others have done so on social media.
"It's just an awful situation that could have been prevented," Brown said early last week. "Someone called the cops on him for potentially writing a bad check, and he ended up dying on camera, unarmed in handcuffs. It seems like things like this continue to happen every year. I don't know what'll change, but it's sad, man, it's sad. It's been happening for a long time, and we'll see what transpires from it."
Two days later after the protests had started in Minneapolis and elsewhere, Collier said, "At what point do people have to continue to be killed just for somebody to understand what being black is like? Just what we go through every day, just the fear of being pulled over—you don't know what's going to happen. Nobody wants to live with that. The rioting, you're to the point of like, 'what do we have to do for you to hear us?' It's a sad thing. I wish it would have been handled better. I feel like this should open the doors to help people understand what's going on in this world, how people of color are being oppressed."
Receiver DK Metcalf posted a video on Twitter saying, "I watched the George Floyd video a couple of days ago, and the one thing that kept sticking out to me was, I have family, friends, brothers that look like George Floyd, and to think that being black in America can lead to that, it scares me, breaks my heart that my uncles could go out into the world today and that could be them. I wanted to say something, because if I didn't, I felt like I would be supporting it, and that's not right."
Quarterback Russell Wilson weighed in via a lengthy statement he shared on social media that read, in part, "We cannot continue to ignore racism as though it has ended, or never happened. The continual violence inflicted upon blacks and people of color must stop. We need Change now. We need love. We need compassion. We need grace and forgiveness even in the midst of the pain. We need true leadership. We need justice. We need equality."