CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - For many years in the NFL, players speaking their minds when it comes to social injustice often came with consequences like being release. But the Carolina Panthers are one of the teams doing something to change that.
On Monday, a handful of Panthers players participated in Justice Walk for George Floyd at Freedom Park. On Thursday, three players from the Panthers Player Impact Committee, tight end Chris Manhertz, linebacker Andre Smith, and defensive end Stephen Weatherly, chatted with the media about the importance of speaking out and they can do so freely thanks to the support from owner David Tepper and head coach Matt Rhule.
“Everyone said at some point in your career you have to choose between being a football player or being black,” said Weatherly. “I know for a fact that I’ve chosen to not say anything in fear of something bad happening to my career. But for coach Rhule to come out and say that it’s OK to tweet whatever you want. Get behind any message you think is right. Don’t fear that we are going to say anything. That speaks bounds.”
And if you don’t think the fact that they get to speak up doesn’t make a difference, think again.
“Some players on our team have over a hundred thousand Instagram followers, some maybe millions,” said Smith. “So if you post some information on your social media, it literally goes out to the millions and that post could change a lot of people’s perspective.”
“I have had so many people text me and ask ‘what can I do to help’ and I’m like this is amazing," said Weatherly. “It’s multifaceted. If you feel like you have a lot of people protesting, what can you do to help with action items? What does your election landscape look like? Who are the people that are arguing and fighting and championing messages for the people who aren’t being heard? What do they need? Guiding everyone in the right directions is good and you actually see forces mobilizing to see these things get done, that’s why I’m hopeful. So there is hope.”
Using their voice is very important to these players as they don’t want this moment to turn out like it did in 2016 when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality, but the narrative turned into a debate about whether he was disrespecting the American flag and the troops who protect our freedoms.
“That moment four years ago was just taking a knee and we just took it and went completely the wrong way with it,” said Weatherly. “We didn’t open up dialogue. We didn’t have discussion. We kind of swept it under the rug and tried to go back to our normal everyday and now we’re here. But we are here and I feel the stage is set for us to take that next step. I’m happy because four years later, I think that it’s moving in the right direction. No one is allowing it to be swept under the rug.”
Another part of the importance for these players is the fact that they want everyone to know that even though they are blessed to make a lot of money playing a game they love, that this is their fight too.
“Some celebrities get their money and lose an understanding of the fight that we are fighting,” said Smith. “As a professional athlete, me Andre Smith, I’m right there along with you fighting the good fight and that I’m not afraid to use my voice or my platform to speak out.”