The New England Patriots’ roster, like that of every other team in the NFL, consists primarily of black players. The current social protests all over the nation following the death of George Floyd at the hand of Minneapolis police officers have therefore also had an impact on the club and its (virtual) locker room: supported by head coach Bill Belichick and encouraged by team leaders such as Devin McCourty or Matthew Slater, players were given a forum to share their thoughts and experiences with each other.
Later today, they will also present them to a wider audience: current and former members of the organization joined a roundtable discussion about racism in the United States that will be aired as a special episode of Patriots All Access on WBZ at 7 pm later today. The participants shared stories about encounters with law enforcement, being subject to racial prejudice both growing up and as a adults, and how to move forward and learn from current developments as a society.
“The fact that I could be discriminated or treated badly because of the color of my skin, that didn’t happen until I came over here,” said fullback Jakob Johnson, who was born in Germany but decided to move to the U.S. five years ago to pursue a career in professional football. “I’ve always had an eye on racial issues over here in America because it was just such a stark contrast to what I was used to.”
Johnson is one of 21 men participating in the discussion — among them 14 of his current teammates: David Andrews, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Justin Bethel, Brandon Bolden, Brandon Copeland, Julian Edelman, Brian Hoyer, Jonathan Jones, twin brothers Devin and Jason McCourty, Derek Rivers, Matthew Slater, James White, and Deatrich Wise Jr. also participated in the event and shared their own stories about how they experienced racial issues over the course of their lives.
“I think growing up in sports and in locker rooms, you’re just around different people from different backgrounds so much that you have a misperception of the world,” said Andrews, who grew up in Georgia like other teammates of his but did not live through racial inequality or downright racism. “The way you see the world from the locker room perspective and growing up in sports [...] it’s not really how the world works on the outside.”
“As kids, you’re taught how to not be a threat,” said linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, who attended a mostly white high school in Maryland and learned to adapt his behavior to actively appear non-threatening. “A big black dude arriving just in random spots, you kind of wave and smile just to make sure ‘I’m cool. I’m a nice guy.’ You wave and smile just to kind of ease everybody’s nerves […] Our normal has not always been normal. It has never been normal.”
Also participating in the hour-long virtual roundtable were current members of the Patriots’ coaching staff and scouting departments — Steve Cargile, Nick Caserio, DeMarcus Covington, Jerod Mayo and Ronnie McGill — as well as former tight end Benjamin Watson.