BY Art Thiel 06:59PM 06/01/2020

Thiel: Wagner yearns for the truth to be seen

LB Bobby Wagner took to the streets to see for himself. He discovered racism and covid-19 are alike: They sicken many, kill some and there’s no vaccine for either.

When it comes to speaking out on racism, Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner is on the same side with  QB Colin Kaepernick. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Bobby Wagner had to see for himself. So the Seahawks’ second-most important player went to Seattle’s riot downtown Saturday.

“I wanted to feel the energy, I wanted to see for myself what was being portrayed,” he told a Zoom conference of Seattle reporters Monday. “A lot of focus is on the looting and stuff but we’re not talking enough about what the black community is tired of.

“You guys in the media play, I think, a pretty big part of the narrative in what’s going on right now.”

Among the things he witnessed was a march that began peacefully protesting the murder by Minneapolis police of a prone, handcuffed black man who was asphyxiated on a public street by a knee to his neck while three other cops watched. The three remained free, while one cop was charged with murder.

But the march quickly devolved into chaos when Wagner said a group of white men torched a Seattle police vehicle, one of at least a half-dozen subsequently destroyed.

“I watched black people try to stop them from doing that, but it just wasn’t happening,” he said. “Then (it) got to a point where I felt like it was unsafe for me to be there. So I left.”

Rage over the homicide of George Floyd spread disastrously across America and continues around the globe. Its source, the scourge of systemic American racism, has something in common covid-19: It sickens many, kills some and there’s no vaccine.

The intensity of the toxicity was sufficient by Monday, a week after Floyd’s death, that the Seahawks’ daily “practice” by Zoom video was scrubbed of football, replaced with a vent session for players, according to Wagner. Knowing the disposition of coach Pete Carroll for encouraging player expression, it was no surprise.

“I feel like our organization has always done a great job of just being open to having the conversations,” Wagner said. “We did not speak about football. We focused on what was going on in the world. We gave anybody an opportunity to express their emotions,  their anger  — whatever it was they’re feeling.

“At the end of the day, life is bigger than football.”

That life feels so much more precarious in the African-American community. Wagner, voted this off-season to NFL.com’s All-Decade first team, felt compelled to illuminate the point by beginning his media session, which he requested be moved up to Monday, with his own remarks, answering questions later.

He recalled a recent conversation with someone who said, “‘You know what, I’m afraid to have have a black child because I don’t know how they’re gonna be treated in this world based off their skin color.’

“That’s not a position anybody should be in. I don’t have all the answers, not even knowing if what I’m saying is coming out perfectly. But I do know that we need to educate ourselves . . . I’m hurting and pissed off like everybody else. I’m tired like everybody else.

“I challenge you guys to educate yourself on what it’s like to be black in America.”

Floyd’s death was the latest lesson, but we seem to be slow learners. Then-San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick tried to explain it to an NFL audience in 2016. It cost him his football career. In light of current events, he offered fair warning, and it was ignored.

“I feel like if you screenshot this moment right now,” Wagner said, “and go back in time and play it, I don’t know if it looks any different.”

Kaepernick’s quiet kneeling during pre-game national anthems as a protest against police brutality was co-opted by critics, notably including President Trump, who twisted the issue into disrespecting the flag. They ignored the howling irony of the flag’s origins in protest, and its symbolism as independence from tyranny, foreign or domestic.

In the Washington Post Saturday, columnist Sally Jenkins captured well another irony: Which knee action would we choose now — Kaepernick’s in the grass, or the cop’s in Floyd’s neck?

When Trump in September 2017 called Kaepernick and other NFL pursuers of social justice “sons of bitches” who should be fired, the Seahawks were flying to a road game in Tennessee. On a Saturday devoted to political rage instead of football prep, the Seahawks, despite objections from some players, decided to stay in the locker room for the anthem Sunday. They also issued a statement:

 

“Even when we talk back about what was going on (in 2017),  the first thing that comes out of (critics’) mouths is ‘flag,'” Wagner said. “It was never really about that. It was about situations like this, where the black community is not being treated fairly, and the people that are harming the black community (are) not being held accountable.

“I supported them then. I support them now.”

Wagner was not shy about Trump’s crisis management.

“We don’t have that leadership right now,” he said. “We have someone in the (White House) that’s calling black protesters ‘thugs’ and white protesters ‘good people,’ and that’s not OK,” he said. “As white people, ya’ll need to check that. That’s on ya’ll to check that. We can only check something so much – it’s got to mean something to you.

“What’s the point in having a camera and watching someone murder someone (if) they’re not gonna be held accountable for their actions?  I don’t want that to be something that we get used to.”

A couple of years ago, Wagner, a Los Angeles-area native, had a meeting with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at Seattle University when he was town to promote his 11th book, Writings on the Wall: Searching for a new equality beyond black and white.

The leading scorer in NBA history has a long history of social consciousness and activism, starting in 1968 when then-Lew Alcindor declined to participate in the Olympic Games in Mexico City because of the U.S. war in Vietnam and the laggard pace of the civil rights movement. He was selected in 2012 as U.S. Cultural Ambassador.

“Seeing him inspired me to be more active than I was in the community,” Wagner said. “We sometimes don’t see what the older athletes had to go through for us to be in the position that we’re in right now.

He really challenged me to go back and try to understand.”

To help us understand, here is a short passage from the book on racism.

The poet Charles Beaudelaire wrote: “The Devil’s best trick is to persuade you that he doesn’t exist.” The metaphor is clear: Not seeing the evil lurking in our lives allows us to unknowingly succumb to that evil’s influence. The problem is that everyone thinks they can see evil coming and are therefore protected. And that’s exactly how the devil wins. Racism is one such evil that seems invisible to those who don’t experience it daily and who don’t feel racist in their hearts. But just because we turn the channel when it shows starving children in Africa doesn’t mean those children aren’t still starving.

In this case, the pundit and the politician’s dirtiest trick is to persuade white Americans that racism doesn’t exist so that it can continue to fester among those whom they don’t care about anyway. They dismiss the black community’s concerns and reduce their hope for meaningful in change. Not that far from slavery after all.

Change doesn’t come out about merely from complaining or even from being morally right. It comes from focused, persistent, intense confrontation of the problem. Remember that the most effective improvements in civil rights have come about from blacks and whites working together. That is the America we are meant to live in.


YourThoughts

  • Will Ganschow

    From my earliest days of reading you back in the PI I have been confident about the human being you are behind the sports concerns and franchise nuances. Of course you would report as you are today. Thank you. I wonder if it has crossed your mind that sports excellence may look different in the world we return to

    • art thiel

      Gracious of you, Will. Thanks.

      As have we all, I’ve looked head. On many levels beyond sports. I have seen more uncertainty now than at any time in my life. I also think a way will be found.

  • James

    Did you see today that POS Trump declared himself an “ally of all peaceful protesters” after calling “Kaepernick and the other kneelers “sons of bitches”

    • art thiel

      Wouldn’t it be wonderful to wake up every day with no knowledge of any mistakes, regrets, heartbreaks, or epic embarrassments in one’s lifetime?

      • James

        Or to know that you can always count on conning 40% of the populace, or “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters.”

  • BB46

    Once upon a time a great man had a dream. He dreamed that people would no longer be judged by the color of their skin but rather the content of their character. I was a kid back then. That great man’s telling of his dream hit home and I have never forgotten it.
    I worry about society. I’m getting old and I don’t believe my generation has left a better world to the next generation. The human race has so much potential but comes up so short in living up to that potential. Greed has trumped compassion. Truth and honesty have died in so many places where they need to be essential.
    Mr. Wagner is correct about the guy in the White House. I hope he realizes there are a LOT of us white folks who don’t really believe much in Trumps content of character. (Or ANY politicians for that matter)
    Bobby Wagner is a good man with a voice because he is a pro athlete. He can and does do good things with his place in society. I wish we had his content of character in the White House.

    • art thiel

      Thanks for sharing Dr. King’s wisdom.

      Wagner is stout of heart in more than football. It’s been a pleasure to have watched him grow from youngster to a man of conscience and community.

      • John-Paul Hunt

        We shall see the upgrades are soon on the way as you guys are better than those fools in LA to deal with in the sports world.

        • art thiel

          Fools in LA? Not following.

          • John-Paul Hunt

            Nevermind. Different topic.

        • art thiel

          Fools in LA? Not following.

  • jafabian

    Oscar Wilde once said “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” The root cause of of the anger and violence that is spreading throughout the US has been ignored and covered up because those who have been in position to do something about it either did not or could not. And when I say could not look no further than Malcolm X, Dr. King, JFK and RFK.

    Fact of the matter is the US has its beginnings rooted in racial division. Slaves were brought in during colonial times from Africa for cheap labor. When Lincoln abolished slavery Asians were recruited to build the railroads on the West Coast and Mexicans in the Southwest. Those divisions have been revealed to still be deeply ingrained into the fabric of America today. Even now there are people who can recall seeing signs in public that would say “Whites only.” Sonics All-Star player and captain Lenny Wilkens and his wife Marilyn were once denied entrance to our very own Space Needle because it was for whites only. Occasionally Lenny will relate that story to show how far we have come but in the past three and a half years it seems the US has taken two steps back.

    Today I’ve seen people volunteering to clean up after rioters. Police marching with protesters and even kneeling. Speaking with protesters from their heart and telling them they understand. A much better and successful approach in finding a solution than bringing out the National Guard and daring people to try and get past them. BSwag wants people to see the truth? As Fox Mulder would say, the truth is out there. It needs to be embraced and accepted. Like the Coronavirus we will never move past it but need to learn to live with it in order to learn and be better for it.

    • art thiel

      Thanks for the observations, John. Well done.

      Hadn’t heard Lenny’s Space Needle story.

      • jafabian

        I don’t think he brings it up very often because he truly loves living here and doesn’t believe it’s representative of Seattle today. But what a blow wanting to show off your new hometown to your wife at the icon of the World’s Fair and to be turned away because of the color of your skin. I’ve always been impressed that he chose to retire here especially when over the years he looks back fondly at his years growing up in Brooklyn. Same with Bill Russell and Slick Watts as well. All three have experienced racism but retired here. Props to Seattle.

        • art thiel

          The opportunities here are better than many places, but let’s not kid ourselves. Seattle has its own lousy history with minorities and police abuse.

  • tor5

    Those words at the end (from Kareem, right?), and this whole article, were great. Thanks! I have to believe that a majority of people in this country want harmony and justice. And I know that a majority do not support the racist-in-chief, nor the senate that empowers him. I get that our problems are not just political, but if we can just achieve majority rule maybe we can stop going in reverse. The next five months are pivotal, and I’m joining Bobby and Colin and Kareem and the vocal majority.

    • art thiel

      It’s a good aspiration. Dems have been in charge before, and failed to achieve meaningful reform. Hard to know if this is a real tipping point.

      • Stephen Pitell

        I agree, I am too old, and remember too many promises, and hopes dashed. Weed is legal, though…Bread and circuses.

        That is just one of the problems of our two party system. Progressive Dems have never, ever had control of both houses of Congress. Moderate Democrats often team up with Republicans to defeat progressive legislation. Vote them out, too.

  • 1coolguy

    “But the march quickly devolved into chaos when Wagner said a group of white men torched a Seattle police vehicle, one of at least a half-dozen subsequently destroyed.”
    This is Antifa – These people are horrible creatures and frankly the cops should shoot a few of them and send a message to not mess. I saw the exact same thing at the Trump inauguration parade – these white punks running amok lighting cars on fire, breaking windows, spray painting and beating people up – these are terrible people and the cops need to just kick their asses.
    Instead they typically are told to stand down by their dumb-ass mayors who pander to their left base.

  • Kirkland

    For free institutions to succeed, they need trust. If you abuse the trust, you will be punished; break the law, you get arrested, abuse free market liberties, you get financial regulation. The police abused that trust last week in regards to the black community, and they are being punished for it now by public violence and in the future by stricter conduct rules. To regain trust, law enforcement must undergo a lengthy process of reforming policing methods, relationship (re-)building with black communities, and accountability with governmental oversight. If they don’t, it’s either more public violence … or an authoritarian state like China, and by God do we not want that.

  • David Freiboth

    Nicely done Arthur. Once again you skillfully mix the escapism of sports with he seriousness of what really matters.

    • art thiel

      Thanks, David. Good to hear from you.

  • rosetta_stoned

    Rioting and looting in blue cities (run by blue mayors) in blue states (run by blue governors) and it’s somehow Trump’s fault?

    I want a divorce.

    • James

      Exactly, how could it possibly be Trump’s fault when he was cowering in an underground bunker at the time?

      • tor5

        The champion of birther lies; the defender of a white supremacist march as “some very find people”; his delight in describing various African Americans as “low IQ.” How could he possibly share any blame for racial unrest?

        • art thiel

          Must be fake news.

    • art thiel

      Don’t leave! You were just getting cuddly.

  • Ken S.

    Seattle PR: We as a team… Guess I can take the Seahawks channel off the dial. No more! Screw em. People need to take a look at the statistics of police shooting citizens. More whites die from police shootings than people of color. I guess facts don’t matter any more. Well here’s a fact, no more Seahawks, and no more coming to this sports page. I can find what I want to read about sports by people that don’t inject politics into the subject. Bye!