Even the biggest African American baseball stars rarely speak out on sensitive matters during their playing careers. The sport’s culture discourages individuality in any form, and a player who publicly addresses racism — Adam Jones, for example — often faces backlash.
Retired players, though, are not as bound by the concerns that effectively limited them when they were active. So, after some initial attempts to see if a prominent current African American player wanted to talk publicly about the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis went nowhere — one explained that he had to tread lightly out of fear that public attention would risk the safety of his family — I reached out to players from the sport’s recent past about participating in a group interview via Zoom. Every one of them said yes. We also asked The Athletic’s Doug Glanville to moderate the panel.
Doug is three things I am not: 1. African American 2. a former major leaguer and 3. a college professor. Doug is an adjunct professor in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut who last semester taught a course entitled “Sport in Society,” a version of which he has also taught at Penn and Yale. He knows how to engage a larger group, and he had a shared history with the others on the panel.
The Zoom call took place Sunday night. I gave Doug a list of topics I thought we might cover, most of which were rather obvious. He had areas he wanted to address as well. The conversation lasted 90 minutes. It was raw, honest, intense. And from my perspective, heartbreaking. I know these guys; I’ve talked to them all over the years. And listening to them speak about their own experiences, I heard pain that I had rarely, if ever, heard from them before.
The panelists included:
• Glanville, a nine-year major-league veteran who works for a variety of media outlets in addition to The Athletic and serves both on the Connecticut Police Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) and Connecticut State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
• Jimmy Rollins, a three-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner and former National League MVP who now works as a studio analyst for TBS and broadcaster for the Phillies.
• Ryan Howard, a three-time All-Star and former NL MVP and Rookie of the Year who spent last season as a studio analyst for ESPN before leaving to focus on his business endeavors, including his sports investment firm, SeventySix Capital.
• Dontrelle Willis, a two-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year who works as a studio analyst for Fox Sports.
• Torii Hunter, a five-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner who works as a special assistant to baseball operations for the Twins.
• LaTroy Hawkins, a 21-year major leaguer who works as a special assistant to baseball operations for the Twins.
The interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.
Doug Glanville: Ken was trying to also reach out to current players, and the challenges of why many weren’t feeling comfortable speaking on this topic. I thought it would be good to kick this off by asking what is the difference in your evolution — now at this time in our post-careers, we have a certain level of comfort. What was it like as a current player trying to address these issues?
Jimmy Rollins: I’ll go ahead and lead off. I did my best. I wasn’t Rickey. But I could try to be Rickey.
Obviously, we’ve all been there. It’s just the culture of baseball. It’s not a clubhouse or a home where you’re actually very comfortable walking in saying those things or bringing up those things outside of your little group, three or four guys you can talk about it with in the clubhouse or on the field during stretching. It really doesn’t leave that group. You might feel that way. You might show your anger. But still, the guys in that clubhouse are the guys you’re taking the field with that day, the guys you’re trying to win with for the rest of that year. You have to find that balance of dealing with it, having a place to go, having people to bounce it off, but not making it an issue in the clubhouse.
Obviously, our white counterparts, they have a completely different view. They don’t have to grow up having that talk — and we all know what that talk is. They don’t have to get in a car, drive down the street knowing I didn’t do anything wrong, but this cop has been behind me for two blocks, something’s about to happen. They don’t have those fears. And every time something like this happens, as a player, you know exactly what is going on. When you get in the clubhouse, you do look at your counterparts, they’re going about their day as if nothing happened. And you’ve got three or four guys in the clubhouse looking at each other like, “Man. You see that? You know what that’s about. What can we do?” Then it’s four versus 21. It makes you a little uncomfortable.
Now that I’m done, I wouldn’t say I don’t care as much about others’ opinions. But I really don’t. It is what it is. I don’t have to walk into a clubhouse. I can go ahead and say my piece. As you become older, you become more mature in your thoughts, you find ways to express yourself. You see the world slightly different. You’re no longer in that bubble of sports and being in protection mode. You stand up for yourself a lot more in those situations than you did when you were playing.
As a player, you’re always trying to keep that clubhouse even-keeled and focused on the game. But there are plenty of times you’re going out there with something else on your mind. And having a couple of guys on the team is always good, so you can bounce that off them so you don’t have to let it explode throughout the clubhouse if somebody does something that rubs you the wrong way.
Dontrelle Willis: I agree with you, J-Roll. For me, Jackie Robinson definitely set the tone as far as how to behave through racial adversity. One, because you don’t want to ruin the situation for the next person, for your kids. You don’t want to ruin the chance for someone to play at the highest level.
We’re always taught as a culture to be the bigger person. Have class. Understand the situation not just for yourself. I always tried to be the bigger person, be a captain, be a leader. But now as I have children growing up and have seen all these things, I have more of a responsibility to myself and to my family to really teach them what’s going on in the real world, so they can have the tools and strength to live the best life they can.
But it’s tough. You don’t want your message to be misinterpreted. It’s a tough situation when you’re representing a community. We’ve got to learn on the fly. But like I just said, I’ve got to step forward and speak for my children.
LaTroy Hawkins: We never wanted to be a distraction in the clubhouse by talking about social injustice. But once you get away from it, you’ve got a responsibility to yourself and your family to speak out and bring awareness. I’ve got an 18-year-old daughter. I don’t have any sons. My daughter was marching in L.A. (Saturday) in a peaceful protest. She got that from her parents. It makes me proud to know even though she grew up in a situation like this in the suburbs, she has some sense of pride in her race.
Torii Hunter: I never wanted to be that guy who was always talking about racial issues. Even though you were going through it, seeing it as plain as day and your white teammates, they can’t see it … you want to talk to some of them but you can’t. We always talked amongst ourselves. It was like a little huddle. But it never got too far.
You have someone like (Gary) Sheffield. He was called militant. But he told you a truth for years. And no one listened. He probably got kicked out of baseball a little earlier than he should have been. And you see those things, it’s kind of like a harness. If you do it to him, you’re going to do it to me. So, I had better be careful what I say.
I stepped out and said a lot of different things. I got backlash all the time. And it kind of suppressed me a little bit. Sometimes people would come to me and say, “You need to be quiet.” I was like, “I can’t, it’s happening right here.”
Hawkins: We didn’t even mention Bruce Maxwell. He’s completely out of the game, playing in Mexico. He’s the only major-league player who took a knee.
Hunter: And he’s out.
Glanville: The young catcher. He had family in the military, right?
Hawkins: Yes, born in Germany.
Glanville: There’s risk. There’s heavy risk.
Hunter: We had a situation, LaTroy and I in our organization — no names. But we had a situation where players were getting called the n-word or being told, “Turn your kind of music down.” Different things like that. And now we’re in that front office. We said, “Hey, do something about it.” And we went to (chief baseball officer) Derek Falvey right away. Bam! Derek Falvey did something about it. That’s what we need.
Derek Falvey got the information, didn’t cover it up. He got (this guy) out of there because we can’t do that. It’s time for change. That’s why I have so much respect for Derek Falvey, for listening to LaTroy and I, listening to some of the players on the team, that voiced their opinion about what this guy was saying to them, their problem, their complaint. That’s what it’s going to take.
Hawkins: You’ve got to talk about Thad also, Torii (general manager Thad Levine). He went to the high school “Remember the Titans” was about (the movie, released in 2000, was based on the true story of an African American coach and his attempt to integrate a high school football team in Alexandria, Va.). He understands social injustice and wanting everybody to be comfortable in their workplace.
Glanville: What you gentlemen are speaking about is leadership positions. There is often this criticism that you have this biggest platform in the World Series, and you’re right there during your playing career. There are a lot of questions about, “Why not speak now?” And you’re talking about the tactical components of leadership, being empowered.
Willis: That’s well-put. You have to have people of all backgrounds stick their necks out for each other. There has to be a common respect and appreciation for your fellow man. And I think that has gotten lost in the United States. I think right now, people just don’t see the good in us unless we’re entertaining them. That’s just the bottom line.
You see us in every walk of life, whether it be entertainment, athletics, front line in the Army, anything you can think of, African Americans have played a big role in this. They respect us when we put our lives on the line, put our talents on the line. But as soon as we got out of that stadium or that forum, it’s almost like that respect is diminished. We’ve given everything to this country, generation after generation.
My grandfather fought in the war. My mom was in the Army. My cousin is a sheriff in Hayward (Calif.). I have people who have brought things to the community. It breaks my heart that we’re at this point in 2020 where we’re right back to the fight that our grandparents fought and died for, hoping it would be better for our parents.
Hawkins: I saw a quote that said, “Caucasians want our rhythm. But they don’t want our blues.” That resonated with me. It’s true. We’re entertainers. In all walks of life, you’ve got African Americans doing great things. But there is still a harness, like Torii said, a harness pulling ’em back. You really can’t be yourself. Once you leave the entertainment realm and you’re driving down the street, anything can happen.
It’s just sad. It’s just one of those things: When. Will. It. Change? People are upset. People are furious. Everybody is talking about people burning things down, looting, doing this and that. I look at it like this. You know who taught black people how to loot and riot? The KKK. They did it first. People are tired. They’re tired of not being heard.
Colin Kaepernick did a peaceful protest and he got crucified for it. Now things aren’t peaceful. And people are still getting crucified for it. But if the right people don’t start listening, our people and the people that stand with us, they’re going to be relentless. They’re tired of seeing African Americans, minorities, killed in the street like dogs. They’re tired. We’re tired.
I’m tired of riding down the highway coming back from burying my grandfather and the police get behind me. I got over, he wasn’t pulling me over, but I still had this feeling. I shouldn’t have to feel like that, as a black man in America. But I did.
It’s a lot. People don’t understand what players go through. African American players go through a lot. The mental stress of where you come from, how you were raised, how the system was set up for you to completely fail. And then when you make it, having the ‘hood on your shoulders to try to give back and bring people up to where you are. That’s a whole lot for an African American kid who is getting a lot of money and has no clue how to manage it. There’s a lot.
Glanville: Why don’t we unpack your reactions to George Floyd and his killing by the hands of the police. What was your first reaction, and what has changed over the last week?
Hunter: When I saw what happened the first day, the next day at 3 a.m. I just got out of bed and went into my office. I was sitting in my chair, looking out of the window and I just started to cry.
I have three sons. I’ve been talking to them my whole life, even as a professional baseball player. Carry yourself this way. Be careful about this. If the cops pull you over, do this and do that. I shouldn’t have to feel that way. I shouldn’t have to tell my sons, every day when you go outside the house, be smart, be respectful, be quiet, don’t say much. I shouldn’t have to tell them that. No white family has to say that.
When you talk about white privilege, I had someone tell me, “My parents had to work. And they got everything they got by working.” I said, “That ain’t white privilege! That’s not what we’re talking about!” We’re talking about, you can drive down the street and police get behind you and you ain’t even worried about it. You can tell your kid, “Have a good day!” I can’t say that. I say, “Hey, this happened, this happened and this happened.” So they won’t get killed. They’ve got to come home and say, “Someone called me the n-word today at school.” What are you supposed to do?
What we have to do is come to a peaceful solution, build relationships with one another, be uncomfortable being uncomfortable. Come to my house. Let me go to your house. Let me get to know you, you get to know us. Let’s have a little dialogue about what we need to do for change. And you know what? It’s all about relationships. If we can get back to that, that’s what is going to change this.
Glanville: You’re talking about access, exposure. J-Roll, think about your first encounter learning about George Floyd. What was that like for you?
Rollins: It’s one of those things where it’s sad to say, you were kind of expecting him to be shot. We see black people get shot by the police all the time. We’re kind of used to that. But to see him sit there minute after minute after minute, you already have him cuffed. You want to keep him down? Put your hand on his back. Put your hand on his shoulder. As he tries to make a move, do something. But no, you literally sat there in defiance like, No, I’m going to do what I want to do. Like his life doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is, “He will listen when I tell him to do whatever it is I tell him to do.” He didn’t want to get in the car, so they say. So now, this is his consequence.
In the beginning, it was more shock. It was like, “This dude, he really just sat there on his neck.” And then, the next day, you think about it, I remember I was picking up some food, and like Torii, I just started crying. Just angry. What do you do? This man has no remorse. There was not one second it appeared he considered (stopping). It was kind of like, “I hear you, but I’m not going to do it. I don’t want to. I don’t have to do it. I’m protected by the badge. If he dies, he dies.” That was his attitude.
And that’s the part that really, really gets to you. How many other people, whether behind the badge or just in life, literally have the same feeling, think the same way? That if this person dies because I’m white and he’s black, and he didn’t listen to what I said, then I’m going to do what I want with him until I get his compliance? And if he dies, he dies.
I understand the frustration white people have with the rioting, the looting, the protesting. It all escalates. It starts as protest. Then police come around and it turns riotous. And then looting happens. But you can look at two men in the black community historically. You have Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Stood on different sides of the fence. And they both were assassinated fighting for the right thing. So, what is the right way to do it?
Ryan Howard: It’s kind of like what Jimmy said: This dude was just sitting on his neck. But what got me was, he’s telling you he can’t breathe. You haven’t learned from the past in the sense of what happened in Ferguson and other cities? This man is telling you. He’s on the ground. He’s handcuffed. You’ve got four or five different police officers right there. There’s no need for that. My man started crying out for his mother. At what point do you think this dude is a threat, when he’s calling for his mom?
It’s got to change. Listening to Torii’s and LaTroy’s stories about riding around with the police (following you), it was that same thing. When the police pull up behind you, you’re like, “Oh man, do I have all my stuff in order? Is my registration up to par? Do I even have it? Wait, let me make sure I get my wallet out so it’s not in a place where I have to ruffle to give this dude cause.”
It goes back to the whole white privilege thing, to where they cannot understand what it’s like to have to be in that situation. I actually had a situation in Philadelphia back in ’07, ’08. We had just gotten home from a road trip. It was like 3 or 4 in the morning. We’re leaving the park. I live downtown. I’m in my Escalade. I’ve got the big rims on it, 26-inch rims, windows tinted.
Everybody knows what the police car lights look like. I’m like, “OK, let me act right because this cop is right behind me. I’m going to try and let this dude pass. We pull up to the same light. He pulls up next to me. I’m going left. He’s going right. The light turns green, boom, my signal is on, I’m doing everything proper. I make my left turn. He sits there at the light. Two seconds later, boom, he makes the left and follows me. Pulls me over and asks for a license, registration, the whole nine yards.
I said, “Officer, can you tell me what I was doing?” He said, “Well, I ran your plates and nothing came back.” I was like, “Isn’t that a good thing? I didn’t speed, didn’t run any lights. I wasn’t doing anything crazy, but you felt the need to pull me over.” Then another police officer pulled up, a black police officer. He went over to the dude and said, “You know who that is?” He came over and talked to me, the dude wound up leaving.
I said, “Look, man, if I’m breaking a law, I don’t care who I am, what I do, that don’t matter. If I’m running a light or not signaling and you pull me over, that’s fine. But when he tells me he pulled me over because he ran my tag and nothing came back what am I supposed to do?” The black officer said, “Yeah, that dude has done that a few times.” He ended up getting reprimanded by his superiors. But when you have people like that working in that capacity, what can you do?
Glanville: I’m in Connecticut. I work on the police council. We work on the curriculum for the state, for training, academies. There’s a policy side to this. What ends up happening with George Floyd or any other situation is that they compare this to what would a reasonable officer, given his or her training, do in that same situation? If the answer is the same thing, they have the power to put death on you, qualified immunity (a legal doctrine in U.S. federal law that shields government officials from being sued for discretionary actions performed within their official capacity). The training is part of it. Then there’s a cultural component of it: “I still have to believe in this. I have to have a spirit behind this that is driven by humanity, equality,” all the things we’re talking about.
I use this in my class: The First Amendment is 45 words. I can give you another amendment in another country that sounds exactly the same. It’s actually North Korea. You can say the things and have the words in place. But the key is how you actually live by it.
I was compelled by what Torii was saying: I’m telling my kids to do all these right things, but I still can’t guarantee the outcome of what should happen when you do the right things, as Ryan just spoke to. So just pivoting to LaTroy. I remember when we talked way back for an interview for ESPN, you told me about what you did when you first moved into your town. You said you went to the police and introduced yourself.
Hawkins: Every city I played in, I always immersed myself into the police department just so they could see my face, get to know me and what type of person I am and understand that I am not a threat. I did that here in Prosper (Texas). I had the guys come over, asked them who their favorite baseball players were. Nolan Ryan? Well, I’ve got a Nolan Ryan ball, here you go. I did the same thing with the fire department, just so they understood that I’m not a threat. I’m on your side. I understand you’ve got a very tough job to do. Every day.
I’ve got a cousin who is a police chief in Indianapolis. I’ve got nephews who are police officers. I understand. I just make sure the police know who I am, make sure they know who my wife is, who my daughter is so when she’s out driving they can be like, “OK, that’s LaTroy’s daughter.” Just to be on the safe side. I don’t think anybody else of any other color does that. And I do it for my own safety and the safety of my family.
Hunter: LaTroy and I actually raise money for police officers here in Prosper and Celina. Every year we have a poker tournament. We go out there, we have myself, Matt Kemp, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Vernon Wells. We come out there and we have a good time and they’re like, “Wow, you guys are fun.” It’s been three or four years now. We’ve built relationships with them. Love requires relationships. If you don’t love us, that means you don’t know us, or we don’t know you. That’s where we need to get to. That’s the point.
Doug was talking about my experience with law enforcement in Newport Coast, in Crystal Cove, California. Man, it was the worst thing I’ve ever seen, period. I’m thinking, “I’m comfortable.” And I shouldn’t have been comfortable. But I’m driving in Newport Coast, going to my house, like la-la-la.
Willis: You got that wake-up call.
Hunter: I got that wake-up call quick. I went into my place, the alarm went off for a second and I cut it off. Maybe an hour later, I see cops at my door. I open my door and say, “Is everything OK?” And they said, “Freeze!” With the guns out. You know you’re coming to Torii Hunter’s house. You already know that!
The young guy had his gun down, but the older guy had his gun, and a vein popped out of his neck. I’m on one leg. He said, “Sit the f— down!” I said, “Hey man, this is my house, calm down.” And the young guy is looking at me like, “I think I know this guy.” The other guy still had the gun. And he says, “Is anybody else in the house?” I said, “No one else is in the house. This is my house.” I didn’t say nothing about baseball. And he walked me into the house with the gun in my back, to go upstairs to get my license. And when I showed him my license, the younger guy said, “I knew that was you.” And the guy said, “Who is he?” And he said, “He plays with the Angels.” Then this guy who had the gun on me says, “Oh, I’m an Angels fan. Can you leave me tickets?”
Willis: You’re lying, Torii. I’m taking my Torii Hunter jersey off the wall because you’re lying to me.
Ken Rosenthal: Torii, when this happened, you didn’t make a big deal out of it at the time. You talked about it, but you kind of had to play it cool.
Hunter: I put it out there (in the media). I said, “This guy didn’t believe I lived here.” I was trying to be strategic about what I was saying. But I wanted them to know. Then I called Major League Baseball. They called, I don’t know, whoever. And the Newport Coast police called and apologized.
I didn’t want to make a big scene. My agent said don’t make a big scene. My front office with the Angels said don’t make a big scene. But it should have been a big scene! I didn’t have no video. Everything is on video now. If I would have gotten shot, they would have come up with something and said I was agitating, angry. They can say anything, and guess what? I would have been dead. Because you thought I didn’t live there. Your mind went straight to criminal.
Willis: When I saw the video (of George Floyd), I was truly just disgusted with human life. I know I’m seeing another black man, someone who looks like me on the ground, and it’s a damn shame that I’m used to seeing that. That’s the first problem. Every other week, we’re seeing one of our black brothers or sisters gunned down, hunted down, on social media. I’m sad to say, I was f—— comfortable with watching that video when I saw it. And I feel bad that I felt comfortable.
The disregard for human life as that man’s knee was in the back of his head and hearing that grown man call for his mother was truly disgusting. Listening to all of your stories, it’s just the lack of respect. You don’t have to like me. We’re Americans. We have a God-given right not to like each other. But just the respect for human life.
People are sick and tired. I’m hearing a lot of people talk about the looting. You’re saying, “This is our community. Why tear it up?” But you’re not policing us like it’s our community. So why the hell do we care if you’re not policing us and giving us common respect when you come and police us? That’s the real problem. I love that LaTroy and Torii are going out there and having a relationship, showing your human side, with law enforcement. Law enforcement is not an easy job.
I’m just disgusted with it. I’m tired of seeing this on my social media. I thought I was going to be able to shield my kids from it. But I’m not going to shield them anymore. I’m going to be very honest and candid with them because I want to protect them.
Hunter: I know complaining keeps us stuck. We’ve got to find solutions. Us as African Americans, but also as Americans. We’ve got to come together and say, “What’s the solution?” Leadership has to come together. We’ve got a black America, an Asian America, a white America. That’s divided. And a house divided shall fall. Republican, Democrat, we’re going to fall every time.
Let me tell you something about baseball players. People from the Dominican, Venezuela, Asia, white, black, they come together and you know why they play together? Because they’ve got a common goal: We’ve got to win the World Series. And guess what: Whites, blacks, Asian, everyone says, “Let’s go, let’s do what we have to do.”
America has no goal. We have nothing we’re trying to reach. That’s why we’re all over the place.
Willis: I’ve got a question for y’all. I’ve asked black people and white people this. You had a problem with us kneeling. You have a problem with us hash-tagging. You have a problem with us speaking out. You have a problem with all these social platforms that are non-violent. Now you have a problem with looting. Well, what the f—. What’s the answer? What’s the honest platform we can have? You black-balled (Colin) Kaepernick for kneeling for the same things we’re talking about now. It just seems like a no-win.
Hawkins: They don’t want us to use our platform. They don’t want to hear us speak.
Hunter: “Shut up and play.”
Hawkins: One thing they know about our people. We cannot, and we haven’t shown, that we can collectively get together. We separate every time. And they know that.
My grandfather told me, “Slavery taught us how to survive. Slavery didn’t teach us how to live.” We’ve survived all these years. That’s all we’ve done — just survive. Every man for himself. We don’t have that cohesiveness we need to take that next step. What do they want us to do? They want us to be quiet. And they know once the going gets tough, we’re going to separate and divide.
If we can stand side by side, African Americans, minorities and our Caucasian brothers and sisters, that’s when the needle can be moved in the right direction. But there’s a lot of things we don’t do. We don’t get out to the polls and vote. You don’t like that prosecutor, like (rapper) Killer Mike was saying (in Atlanta), get out and vote him out. Get out there and do it. You cannot have a voice and not use it.
Go back to George Floyd. My daughter told me about it. She sent me the link. I didn’t finish looking at the link. I was like, “That’s messed up, what (the officer) did.” And she said, “He died.” I was like, “No, he didn’t.” And when I looked at it again, I got sick to my stomach. I had German Shepherds. I know how you control the dog. You grab him by the neck. At that moment, that’s what he did to George Floyd. He showed him that you’re not supposed to speak, not supposed to rebut what I’m saying. You’re supposed to lay down and be submissive and shut up.
Glanville: LaTroy, part of that lack of cohesion is by design. You talk about voting. There’s voting suppression, all these efforts. We just talked about not speaking out while you’re a current player. That’s notable in and of itself. You’re at the top of your craft. You’ve made a ton of money. But you feel that risk. Not just in the clubhouse, as Jimmy pointed out so well, but it’s also the consequences, especially now. Backlash, sponsorships, whatever. You see with Kaepernick, you might not ever play your sport again.
But the other side of silence, when there’s power to do something, is the complicity, the fact you’re just endorsing the status quo. The status quo rewards people who have power already. If you already have power, why are you going to change it?
You mentioned with law enforcement, having these experiences. I had positive experiences growing up, because they were my volunteer coaches, the police officers in my hometown. I’d love to hear from you guys about law enforcement within your teams, the security, how law enforcement and baseball actually have a very interesting rhythm to each other. We get the same kinds of elements — the code. You don’t speak. What can you tell us about that experience when you were playing?
Hunter: All the law enforcement we had in baseball my whole career is only because they knew us. They knew what kind of people we were. It was easy to have a relationship with them. I had a great relationship with them because I knew who they were, and they knew who I am.
It won’t be the same for someone with my skin color who was out in the street. We cracked jokes with them. We felt comfortable being around them. But when we go outside that, because we didn’t have a relationship with anybody like that and they didn’t know us, we felt threatened.
Rollins: Maybe it’s just being black, but it’s always in the back of your mind: “This (police) dude is cool. He helps me to my car. He makes sure we get on the bus. But if I wasn’t in this clubhouse, and I was on the street, and he got called to a situation, would I get the same treatment?”
Would it be, “I know this is Jimmy, let me try to diffuse the situation.” Or is it he’s a police officer, he’s doing his job, does he even recognize me?
The first thing he’s going to see is a black person. It could be broad daylight. It could be the middle of the night. We have these relationships (with police) — we get to talk to them, they see us in uniform, obviously there’s a celebrity factor. But as soon as you take that uniform off, at least for me, it was always in the back of my head: “Would I get the same treatment if this dude pulled me over?”
Glanville: Maybe you guys can speak to this. The degrees of separation from George Floyd is basically zero.
Willis: I saw myself in him.
Glanville: Speak to that. That’s kind of what we’re talking about. That was me on the ground — that was me. All of us here did pretty well. Made some money, won some World Series, got some MVPs, we’ve got it all — All-Stars, you guys are an incredible group. We have a community of this shared experience. But there is also this lumping together where we don’t have this luxury of individuality and get that benefit of the doubt. Why are you George Floyd also?
Willis: I feel like I’m George Floyd because every case we’ve heard, from Trayvon Martin to George, they were doing normal stuff. They were walking down the street eating Skittles. They were doing things that were normal. A guy selling tapes or DVDs on the side of the road. We’ve seen that everywhere. That’s where you connect with that person. We saw people getting arrested and getting attacked in normal, everyday, broad daylight streets.
That’s where the connection for me is. It’s like, “Man, I can be walking with my daughters and get hemmed up.” I’ve been pulled over with my daughters and really yelled at them not to say anything out of fear for my life and their lives. That’s where the disconnect comes. Now you don’t feel like a human. You don’t feel like a man. You feel less than. That’s a feeling no one wants to feel. I don’t care if you’re black or white. You don’t want to feel less than.
As a culture, as a people, we’re tired of feeling less than. That is the problem right there. Treat us with the same appreciation and respect. Hell, scratch appreciation. Just give me some respect.
Hawkins: That zero degrees of separation, if you’re an African American man, and you don’t see yourself in that position — you don’t see your brother, your cousins, your nephews — I don’t know what you’re seeing. It can happen to you in a split second. If you encounter the wrong police officer, it can go bad real quick.
I know all the guys on this call, we completely understand that. We now have conflict resolution. We know how to de-escalate because we’ve gotten older. But what about our brothers who are still in the inner city, our cousins? Everything is a disrespect, a threat to them. Their only conflict resolution is to get aggressive.
(Relatives) say, “You can’t get caught up like that, because you’re going to talk your way out of it.” I’m like, “I’ve learned conflict resolution. I’ve definitely learned I would not match an attitude with attitude. Should I have to be like that because of the color of my skin? No. But I do know I have survival skills. And I know what I need to do to survive that encounter to see another day.
Willis (laughing): We ain’t throwing sliders no more, so we’ve got to figure it out. “You ain’t struck out nobody in a decade, D-Train, that card ain’t working no more.”
Hawkins: I know my brothers in the inner city don’t have conflict resolution. That’s them laying on that ground, them screaming for their mother who has been dead for two years. That’s people that we know, who are close to us, our family. I don’t know George Floyd, but damn he looked like my uncle. Damn he looked like my brother. Damn he looked like my cousin.
Hunter: I was telling you guys earlier I was up at 3 in the morning crying. That was one of the reasons why. I saw my six brothers. I saw my three sons. I saw myself. I saw a whole slew of people I grew up with that knee in the back of his neck, saying he can’t breathe and screaming for his mother who passed away two years ago.
My son a couple of weeks ago said, “Dad, every time I go jogging in this neighborhood, everybody is looking at me.” What he does, he’ll take his son with him, so people can see he’s a father. He shouldn’t have to live like that. This is 2020. That’s what I did when I was younger. Why does he have to go through that? That’s why I was crying. I saw all my family members and all my friends, all my teammates I’ve ever had, under there.
Now let’s talk about another thing. It’s a humanity thing. White people should see their sons, and their cousins and their daughters. You should see this is a human being, period. I don’t want my kid to ever go through that. That’s why I speak out. Really, I don’t care what you say. I’m telling you a truth. I’m telling you my truth. Then you knock my truth. Martin Luther King did it peacefully, and you still killed him. Malcolm X was violent. And you still killed him.
Howard: The looting and the rioting is just ignorance. It takes away from the real issue at hand. You see yourself in George Floyd. On any given day if you run into the wrong cop who is feeling some kind of way, that’s you. But the way I see it, we keep asking the question, “How do we get change?” We can talk all we want. But change doesn’t come until those other (white) folks want change to come. And the only way that comes is when you’ve been affected by it. They have not been affected by it.
(They’ll say), “That’s bad, man, that’s terrible.” But until it really hits home. … You go back. You’ve got Rodney King. You’ve got George Floyd. You’ve got Ahmaud Arbery. We’ve got footage. These cats are on tape. They’ve got tape of police officers beating Rodney King, tape of two white guys in Georgia rolling down the streets with the shotguns and then killing this man jogging in the neighborhood. You have video footage of a police officer on this man’s neck in the middle of the street. All of this footage, and it’s like, “Oh my goodness, that’s so bad.”
And then you go back and do the whole O.J. (Simpson) thing, when O.J. was acquitted. It was like, White America got a dose of what it was like being black. It was like, “Oh my God, this is terrible, how could they let this happen?” You got a small feel of what it was like being black and having to live in America and having these situations take place. Until it affects you, there’s no real need for a change. “That’s a terrible thing that happened to that black guy.” But until it actually hits home, it doesn’t have an effect.
Willis: Doug, I’ve got a question for you. You said you grew up with law enforcement. I thought all police stations had a division that oversaw crimes like this, like, internal affairs — a group of people who policed the police, or someone from the community that you trust who was also on the board to review these types of things. Each time you’re seeing a case, the (officers) are looking more chill and more casual like nothing is going to happen to them. I’m just shocked by that.
Glanville: That’s a great point. Departments have internal affairs, if you have to investigate the police. State by state, it depends. In Connecticut, we have what we call the POST Council — the Police Officers Standards and Training Council. We’re one of the only ones in the country that has civilians on the council, and I’m one of the council members. We (do) training, curriculum, accreditation, legislation, things like that. I think it’s pretty effective, actually.
There’s no question about (the importance) of listening to the public, having voices at the table. As Torii was talking about earlier, if you’re not in the room and you’re not having representation, how does anything change?
With law enforcement, it’s no different. You have to have that representation. But then you have to have power, and a voice. I always call it color by numbers. You can make a board with color. But if you don’t give them power, then you’re just going to reinforce the same poor culture.
That’s one of the questions I pose to you: What do you think needs to be done? What do you think needs to be different? How would you approach it?
Willis: I think true conversation. People take stances before they even hear the question. Have enough respect and decency to listen. Right now, and this is why you see all the looting, people don’t even want to be speaking anymore. We’re tired of this. I don’t think it’s the best way. I agree with Ryno. It puts a lot of pressure and kind of takes away from what the real issue is. But at the same time, people are sick and tired. They tried to have this discussion with people of different backgrounds, different colors. And it seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Hawkins: Doug, I’ve got to applaud your police department in Connecticut. They have citizens on the board, in the room. You come in with a completely different mindset. If police force had civilians in the room — blacks, whites, Mexicans, everybody — they would have to change some of the law and policies. We get into excessive sentencing — sentencing that is greater than what you would have given a Caucasian person. We can go down a whole other line about the laws that need to be changed — the laws that take African American men, take them out of their homes, leave their kids to get made fun of for growing up with no fathers.
Willis: And you have to have police neighborhoods with police who are from the neighborhood, who have a pulse and feel for what is going on.
Hawkins: How tough is that, Dontrelle, when we grew up not liking the police? When you grow up not having a pleasant experience with police, you don’t want to be police.
Willis: That’s why when I’m watching these videos and I see my skin color in law enforcement, my heart bleeds for them, too. They’re trying to do their jobs. There are a lot of videos right now coming out of black men standing on the front line (of police) trying to calm people down. “I’ve got kids. I want to get home. I’m just trying to do my job. I want to keep you safe and I want to keep myself safe.” Kudos to those guys who are on the front lines right now. Bravo, we need more men like them. But you’re damn sure right. I didn’t want to be a cop growing up. I think we just need more people from the community to police our community so everyone can live as one.
Rollins: In our community, we fear ourselves anyway. It’s not like only whites and others are taught to fear us. We’re taught to fear us. You’ve got to watch out for this cat, you know what I’m saying. One of my homeboys growing up, his dad was a police officer. Big William. I remember growing up, my perception of him was, Why do you want to be a police officer? You know all the people in the neighborhood. You’re going to be the one arresting ’em. You know who to go get. Why are you going to go snitch? That was the mentality.
But racism isn’t just black versus others, Mexicans versus others, whites versus everybody. It’s systematic. If we don’t break the chain ourselves, how can we expect others to do so first? Although they may be the ones who, in our eyes, perpetuate it in movies, and the way we’re perceived on TV, all the bad stories. If we change one person and start that line, that will help. But if we’re not willing, after this is over, to go back and culturally make a change, it’s just going to repeat itself. If you look at the track record, it’s going to continue to happen.
Hunter: I was thinking about us being out of chains. But there’s a chain in our brain that hasn’t been unlocked yet. If we renew our minds, things will change. I like that we’re filming everything. That’s a step, that everything is getting filmed. But Albert Einstein said, the world will not be destroyed by people who do evil. It will be destroyed by people that don’t do anything about it. They just sit there and watch it.
I remember Michael Todd, he’s a pastor who said, “It won’t take organizations to make a change. It’s going to take organisms,” meaning us, people. Those cops who were there when George Floyd’s neck was on the ground, with that cop’s knee on his neck, those (other) cops have got to say, “Ease up. Get off him.” You’ve got to hold them accountable. Because if I was with Dontrelle and LaTroy and Dontrelle wants to go off on somebody, if I don’t say, “Dontrelle, ease up,” and he ends up hurting him or killing him, then guess what? I go to jail because I’m an accomplice. If we can get cops to be accountable for one another, just like we are in the clubhouse, I think that changes things, too.
Willis: When Ken hit me about this story, when he initially texted me, my first reaction — and I’m embarrassed to say this — was, “Man, I don’t know if I want to touch that.” Right when I heard it, you guys read texts all the time where you’re like, “I don’t know…” I work at Fox Sports. I’ve got a good thing over there. You see the Emmy over here on my shoulder. It was one of those things where I didn’t want to put myself in a situation. I thought about it for a second, like “Man, you better speak on that. This is what we need you to do. Shame on you for not wanting to speak on that. You’d better address that and use that platform.”
You guys are absolutely right. I wrote it down: “I need to talk to some cops.” I’m going to be easy about it. It’s almost like going up to a tiger like, easy, man. I just want to get some dialogue with you, some banter back and forth about where your head’s at. But I think a lot of us need to do more of that, have a conversation with law enforcement, to make them feel, not at ease because it’s a tough job, but just to get the mindset of each other. Discussion is definitely from the ground up.
Glanville: I got on the police council from an experience that I had. I used to live in Hartford, Conn. We were on the border of this town, West Hartford. Hartford is a city, black and brown majority, a lot of poverty. West Hartford is sort of this elite suburb. Different. Night and day. And we happened to live right on the border, on the Hartford side of the city.
One day I’m out there shoveling. We had a bunch of snow days in a row. I was like, “I’m getting this minivan out of my driveway. These kids have got to get to school. They’ve been home for four days.” It’s like the middle of the day, freezing, like negative-1. I look up, and there’s an officer. I’m looking at the car and I saw that it said West Hartford, not Hartford. They’re two different towns. I was like, “Why is a West Hartford officer parked across the street? That’s strange.”
And then he starts coming toward me. I kind of stand up with my shovel. I expect, “Hey, I’m lost.” I didn’t know what to expect. It wasn’t anything that ended up coming out of his mouth. But the first and only thing he said was, “So, you’re trying to make some money shoveling people’s driveways around here?” That was the first question. And I was like, “What?”
It was a moment where I said, “My reaction matters. Everything is hinging on how I react. If I take the shovel and pick it up.” It’s amazing. I got buried in a local editorial that said I was overreacting because I didn’t end up getting shot. But when I talked to the guy, I kind of said, “This is my house. I’m in my driveway.” The guy eventually was like, “Happy shoveling.” But there was no introduction, no nothing.
The thing that was so educational about it was, I realized then that it wasn’t about me going to the West Hartford P.D. or the Hartford P.D. It was about me finding out that this police council was the one that actually called the shots on how policing is done in this state. It took me 18 months, and I had all the access and privilege of anybody. But that’s what I learned. The access to the process is so difficult for even someone who has access. My wife is an attorney, the whole nine yards. So it took me a while. But it ended up being a constructive lesson.
You talk about change. Martin Luther King used to say, “You need the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) to be on the streets. But you need the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) to be in the courtroom.” There’s slow work and there’s sort of the in your face, this is unacceptable, I’ve got to remind you about this. You’ve got to keep the pressure on. But you also need the slow work.
When you talk about change, you think about the next generation, you think about the future. I was a systems engineering major in college. We used to talk about the system as it is, the system as it will be if nothing changes and the system as it should be — that’s where we want to be. I guess I pose to you, where do you want to be? If you could pick your own world and could draw it when it comes to race and America, what would you draw?
Willis: For me, it’s simple. When I see law enforcement behind me, I want to live in a world where my heart doesn’t race. That would be a telling point: When I see law enforcement, my heart doesn’t race and I truly feel protected and served in my community.
Hawkins: The world I want to live in, I want to see the same resources put into the African American minority communities in the school systems, so we can have a chance to be successful in this very difficult world. Our schools in Gary, Ind., are crumbling to the ground. You drive six miles away and the schools are brand new. My high school is 50-plus years old. I want to see money funneled to the inner city for education. Without education, it’s going to be a tough road forever for African Americans and minorities.
Hunter: I would like to see all of us equal. Give me an equal share. Put me on a line where I can race you. Don’t let me grow up in a negative.
It’s going to take us. We’ve got to take responsibility and ownership of our own selves first. If I feel like all the time, “My mama owes me. My daddy wasn’t around, he owes me,” I’m going to grow up angry. I feel like all our people feel like, America owes us and we haven’t been paid that debt. But they’re not going to pay that debt back. We’ve got to cancel that debt, come together and feel this thing out.
Let me tell you something powerful about Harriet Tubman. She went and prayed and God gave her a message: Build an underground tunnel. And she did, quietly. We talk too much. But if we do something underground and build it back up, then things will change for us as African Americans.
Rollins: I would like to see pure opportunity. Put me in position to show you I’m smart enough, that we’re smart enough. Let me bring up other people. Opportunity and education is great. But that big table, that’s where we need to be. They will give us opportunity to move around, snake around, get to a certain level. But then it’s cut off. That’s it. You’re not going to get higher than that. Put us at the top of the top. Put us in that 1 percent and let us try to do it.
We did it once. We had Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Okla. We were getting too wealthy. They came and burned that down. (On May 31 and June 1, 1921, mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa in what has been called the single worst incident of racial violence in American history). If they actually let us show what we can do, we’ll be equal. And they will see that. But they will never let us be more than three-fifths of a man, period. Point blank.
Howard: It’s showing what we can do, but at the same time, they’re going to cap that. They already know what we’re capable of doing. Back to the origins of Africa, black men and women were kings and queens. To be brought here and be made less than … that’s the first thing. It’s understanding who we are and where we came from as people, what type of people we are. We are kings and queens.
That being said, everybody can be a king and a queen — white, black, Asian, whatever have you. The way I see it is, I just want to be able to walk around and be an American. It’s like ‘Trelle said, driving your car and the police are there and you’re not worried about that. You’re not trying to fumble through or feeling nervous. It’s just being able to go about your everyday, have your kids go about their everyday and not have to worry about them having to go through it. Just to be seen, not just as an African American, but as an American. That’s the biggest thing.
Yes, everyone comes from different places. But here, we’re all supposed to be Americans, first and foremost. That’s what it’s all about.
We talk about the baseball mentality. Puerto Rican, Dominican, Venezuelan, Asian, Korean … when we’re all in that clubhouse, it’s a family. And that’s what America is supposed to be. This is supposed to be the melting pot, supposed to be the family.
It’s so saddening and so heartbreaking to see where we are right now. My parents grew up in the south, in Birmingham, Ala. Moms and Pops were right in the middle of it, all the segregation and everything that took place. To be going through this right now where down the street, here in Atlanta, people down there are acting stupid. Philadelphia, people down there are acting stupid. It’s just saddening to be where we are in 2020, looking at my kids and having to explain to them what’s going on in the world, saying, “Look, you guys can be the people who can kind of help change this, who can turn this whole thing around and make America America and not have it be as segregated. Be true Americans.” That’s what it all comes down to.
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