Russell Wilson spoke to media who cover the Seahawks Wednesday. But for the first time in his eight-plus years as the team’s quarterback — a career in which he has become one of the most iconic figures, sports or otherwise, in Seattle’s history — he didn’t want to talk about football.
For the first time, Wilson did not end a press conference with either a cheery, or at least hopeful, “Go Hawks!”
Instead, Wilson offered a parting statement of “be safe” at the conclusion of a roughly 33-minute Zoom session devoted to talking about the death of George Floyd last week, a Black man who died in Minneapolis after his neck was pressed under the knee of a white police officer for roughly eight minutes; the protests that have followed, and where America goes from here.
Wilson began with a roughly six-minute statement, speaking from an office in his home in southern California, in which he made clear it was not a time for talking about anything on the field.
Instead, Wilson said “I have a heavy heart” over recent events that he says shows that “racism is as real as it’s ever been. It’s staggering. … I think that the reality is enough is enough with the situation. The reality is that I think that we have to understand that Black lives do matter. It’s a group of people who are being brutally murdered because of the color of their skin.”
Watching the video of Floyd’s death, Wilson said, made him wish he was there beside Floyd “so I could have been there to just help.”
“A guy was murdered last week,” Wilson said. “There needs to be a change. It’s not overly complicated.”
Nor is what Wilson hopes is the result of that hoped-for change.
“My ultimate prayer is for my newborn son that comes in the world to be able to live in a world that’s not like this,” said Wilson, who announced earlier this year that he and his wife, entertainer/singer Ciara, are expecting their second child (Wilson is also the stepfather to Ciara’s older son).
Wilson, who was born in Cincinnati and attended high school in Richmond, Va., said his hope would be that he doesn’t have to have the same conversation with his son that his father once had with him.
“I remember my dad telling me every time you are at the gas station, don’t put your hands in your pocket,” Wilson said. “… the fact that my dad even had to tell me that is a problem. … The assumption that someone may accuse you of stealing or something like that is a terrifying thought.”
He also remembered a more recent moment of an unsettling encounter at a restaurant in California shortly after the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2014.
Wilson said he was in line at a place to get breakfast when an older, white man told him “that’s not for you.” Wilson said he thought the man was joking.
“I had just come off the Super Bowl and everything else and if someone is talking to me that way,” Wilson said. “…that was a heavy moment for me that this is really still real. That really pained my heart.”
In comments as candid as Wilson has made on issues football or otherwise, Wilson said he fully supported Colin Kaepernick’s 2016 decision to kneel during the national anthem and thinks many at the time did not understand — or want to understand — the reasoning. He also criticized some of the efforts that law enforcement has taken regarding protests.
“People are protesting and we have police and National Guard coming in and it’s overwhelming and not allowing them to do what their right is, and that’s to protest peacefully,” Wilson said. “And that’s a shame.”
Wilson’s comments about Kaepernick, meanwhile, came in an answer to a question of whether he had seen the comments of New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. Brees said in an interview with Yahoo! Sports he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America,” comments that immediately drew strong criticism from some of his most noteworthy New Orleans teammates and others around the league including former Seahawks Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin.
Wilson said he had just gotten out of meetings and that he “didn’t get to watch the whole thing” of what Brees said. (Wilson has long stated his admiration for Brees, having said that he considered Brees —who is listed at 6-foot —as a role model for a shorter quarterback making it in the NFL.)
But in his answer to the question about Brees he defended the right of Kaepernick to kneel saying that he thinks the meaning behind Kaepernick’s actions “got lost in the shuffle” of the controversy over kneeling.
“It’s heavy on me because I think the reality is with Colin, in particular, is he was trying to symbolize the right thing,” Wilson said. “People may have taken that the wrong way. But I think he was trying to do the right thing. …Colin was trying to symbolize the oppression that was going on in America and has been for 400 years.”
In both 2017 and 2018 the Seahawks approached Kaepernick —he had a visit with the team in 2017 and a call in 2018 —but each time Seattle did not sign him.
Wilson was asked if the Seahawks in retrospect missed an opportunity not signing Kaepernick, who has not played in the NFL since the 2016 season..
Wilson said that was a better question for coach Pete Carroll but that “ultimately, he definitely could be on our roster. He can do a lot of great things and he’s a really talented player, that’s for sure.”
The Seahawks, as with all other NFL teams, are continuing to hold daily meetings via Zoom as part of the offseason program, modified this year due to the pandemic with teams not allowed to meet at facilities or do anything on the field.
The last few days, Wilson said Seattle’s meetings have largely been devoted to talking about the raises issues in the wake of the death of Floyd.
Wilson said he has found some rays or hope in those meetings, such as when a white teammate (he said he thought it was tight end Luke Willson) said “if someone is talking bad about one of my Black friends I want to make sure that I say something. Just making sure that we are doing our part.”
And Wilson said he thinks that is what it will take for real change —gestures big, such as police reform, and small, such as daily human interactions at home and elsewhere.
Asked if he leaves those meetings hopeful of better days ahead, Wilson said: “I’m always hopeful because I never want to be the other way around. But I also am realistic enough to know that this is going to take some time. This is going to take real change. This is going to take real significant change and sometimes those things take time.”