Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson did not want to talk about football during a video conference call with reporters Wednesday, saying "none of that matters" compared to "life and what the black community is going through right now."
"When you think about the idea of Black Lives Matter, they do matter," Wilson said, speaking from his offseason home in Southern California. "The reality is that, me as a black person, people are getting murdered on the street, people are getting shot down, and the understanding that it's not like that for every other race. It's like that in particular for the black community. I think about my stepson, I think about my daughter, I think about our new baby boy on the way, and it's staggering to watch these things happen right in front of our faces, so I have a heavy heart right now."
Wilson's voice at times seemed to quiver as he spoke for more than 30 minutes in his first comments to reporters since George Floyd's death while in police custody and the protests against police brutality that it sparked throughout the country. Floyd, a black man, was killed May 25 in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes.
"Being black is a real thing in America," Wilson said. "It's a real thing in the sense of the history and the pain, even my own family, personally."
Wilson said his great-great-grandparents were slaves, and he has always understood "that racism is real." He recalled how, while growing up in Richmond, Virginia, his father would warn him to not put his hands in his pockets when he stepped out of his car at gas stations.
"You understand fully -- especially now just turning 31 and having two kids and a third one on the way -- you really understand the significance of what that means," Wilson said. "And the fact that my dad even had to tell me that is a problem. And going to grocery store, the assumption that somebody may accuse you of stealing or something like that is a terrifying thought."
Wilson was reminded of that time in his youth during a 2014 encounter at a restaurant in California sometime after the Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII. He was in line for breakfast when an older white man told him, "That's not for you."
"And I said, 'Huh? Excuse me?' I thought he was joking at first," Wilson said. "My back was kind of turned. I had just come off a Super Bowl and everything else, so if somebody is talking to me that way, you think about [a different] circumstance and how people talk to you. In that moment, I really went back to being young and not putting my hands in my pocket and that experience. That was a heavy moment for me right there. I was like, man, this is really still real, and I'm on the West Coast. This is really real right now.
"That really pained my heart. But in the midst of that, what I understood was -- and [what] my dad always taught me was -- to not lash back out in that moment because then it becomes something that's hard to deal with. So I said, 'Excuse me, sir, but I don't appreciate you speaking to me that way.' He just kind of walked off. But in that little glimpse, even though it didn't turn into something, what if it did? That's the sad part about this, what we're talking about."
Wilson called it "a shame" that people aren't being allowed to peacefully protest. He spoke about the need for change and police reform.
"Not every police officer is bad by any means, but the reality is I think there needs to be a process of ... the background checks and checking on these people and constantly -- not just the first time they get hired but also throughout the whole process as they're working as well," he said. "I think there's so much there that needs to be changed."