BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 08/31/2020

Thiel: Seahawks and the art of having one’s back

Newbie Jamal Adams saw how Pete Carroll has his back. Now he has coach’s back. All good, in what will be the most provocative season in NFL history.

SS Jamal Adams says he fears “for my life as a Black man, and I shouldn’t fear for my life.” / Rod Mar, Seattle Seahawks

The day after the Seahawks skipped practice to talk about the crisis of race in America, followed by a passionate public discourse from coach Pete Carroll about white ignorance, routine had returned to the VMAC. The Seahawks Sunday had their third and final preseason mock game on a grand afternoon by the lake, and life again seemed about ball.

Then SS Jamal Adams offered up a rhetorical question to his questioners in a Zoom conference that stirred the pot anew.

“Does a top athlete have to go down for people to really listen and understand why?” Adams said. He was referring to the historic indifference shown by whites to police to shootings of unarmed Black people, and how it keeps him fearful now.

“I’m afraid,” Adams said. “I fear for my life as a Black man, and I shouldn’t fear for my life.”

Adams told a story that suggested he could have been that athlete.

He declined to divulge the town or school, but the Texas native was on a college recruiting trip with other high schoolers hosted by current players. Three police cars descended upon the athletes, who were forced upon the ground at gunpoint, Adams saying they had done nothing wrong.

“I’ll never forget when the guy put us on the ground and found out who we were,” Adams said.  “He said, ‘This is how we treat our players. You don’t want to come here.'”

The cop probably didn’t break any law, but he reinforced a stereotype that plagues the nation.

“It’s always been like that,” Adams said. “I’ve always been stereotyped my whole life in a diverse area. Let’s arrest the cops that are killing unarmed black people.

“It’s gonna be a lot of hard work, man. We understand that it’s not gonna be an overnight thing. The system has never been set for us, to be honest. It’s never been fair. So we got to continue to work and continue to educate.”

Some of that education took place Saturday upon the VMAC’s berm, where Carroll had the team sit and relax for what might be termed a therapy session, as racial tensions grow across the nation.

The first player Carroll invited to speak was Adams, which surprised him.

“I thought that was really very powerful coming from him to me, and him having the trust for me to start it off,” he said, “with so many high-caliber guys here. I didn’t take that lightly, man. I think I set the tone. I think we had a great talk.”

As a newbie acquired a month ago from the New York Jets, Adams perhaps had his first team-wide look at Carroll’s longtime emphasis on player self-expression. He was impressed.

“He has our back, I have his back,” he said Adams. “I texted him last night and I thanked him and (GM John Schneider). They understand. They give us a platform to use our voice. They let us be ourselves. They don’t judge us.

“As a Black man, you really cannot ask for more. For Pete and so many guys on the staff to understand our pain and understand our anger, and sit there and listen and educate, that’s what it’s about.”

When asked about the responses from his players to his public exhortation, Carroll said, “I’ve heard from some of our guys — quite a few. We’ve been through a lot together in our time here, our discussions and revelations that we’ve all had. The things that I said, I don’t think surprised them at all. But they were happy to hear somebody say the things that were said.

“I was speaking for everybody here; that wasn’t just a personal statement. I was speaking for where we have come as an organization, and certainly as a team in this locker room. They were things that needed to be said.”

It’s just that the things rarely get said so honestly in public, even in a majority-Black workplace. Players typically come from colleges where coaches are tyrants who come down hard on independent thinking, outspokenness and originality. College coaches see threats everywhere to their empires, as do many pro coaches.

Many players quickly learn to say quiet. Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett were rare dudes. They’re gone now, so Carroll seems to have a desire to coax the newbies that in this place, being yourself out loud is fine.

“Different people feel different about their willingness to speak out,” he said. “Some guys were strong and bold enough, you knew right where they’re coming from. Other guys know right where they’re coming from, but don’t want to say stuff. And there’s other kids, they’re not sure yet, they’re learning.

“Just in general, it’s easy to understand why people are hesitant at times. They’re not sure what’s going to be the fall-out, the ramifications. When you’re the oldest coach the league and you’ve been around, you don’t have to be real bold to say what I said. I don’t think that was anything courageous. It was just stuff that needed to be said. And there’s a whole lot more that needs to be said.”

We are heading into the most provocative year in NFL history. Already attempting to navigate a full season through a pandemic without the use of a bubble, the sport is a high-profile target in a political campaign to re-elect an incendiary president whose goal is to disrupt, distract, discourage and divide a nation for whose laws he has little regard.

He loves to denigrate the NFL, which denied him ownership because his potential partners judged him an oaf and a dullard (which, when it’s considered that they let in Daniel Snyder, is saying something).

So when he plays the NFL race card again, he may hear from the NFL’s most humane coach, who indicates he will suffer no fools. There’s a whole lot more to be said.

Chinstraps, everyone.


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YourThoughts

  • BB46

    Excellent Art. Just Excellent.

    • art thiel

      Thanks.

  • Tim

    Damn. Great stuff Art. We’ve got a long road ahead but while I woke up with a feeling of dread at the possibility of 4 or more years of Trump, I’m feeling more hopeful now. It’s sickening and infuriating that black people and people of color live in fear due only to the color of their skin. Just recently finished Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Really suggest that to all of my white brethren still struggling to understand what’s going on. This powerful song Black and Blue by Louis Armstrong is referenced: https://youtu.be2LDPUfbXRLM

    • art thiel

      Thanks for sharing the video, Tim. Hadn’t seen it nor knew the poignant song. When Armstrong sings, it is always felt, not heard.

  • StephenBody

    The ugliness of Kenosah cops telling armed vigilantes (including one underage kid who shot three people), “We appreciate you guys, we really do” is the sort of rot that has always been at the heart of America. None of us like to admit that but it has and racism is only its most visible manifestation. The squatter in the White House has legitimized and emboldened the worst of us and it has always been fearless, forthright people like Pete Carroll who remind us all of what the true reality of our presence on Earth really is: respect, tolerance, acceptance, and – however trite it is to say it, for the billionth time – love. I don’t even think, on his part, that bravery entered into his decision to speak. I don’t think he would have even thought not to say it.

    I took a lot of pot shots when Carroll was hired. It looked to me like some sort of bizarre Stockholm Syndrome deal, after watching USC beat UW like a drum for years. But I sinned in a frenzy and now repent at leisure: Pete Carroll is a genuine Mensch, a man of substance, conscience, and fierce intelligence. It makes me like Seattle better that he’s here.

    • art thiel

      I believe you’re right about Carroll not flinching before he spoke. He already was certain, and then he heard players tell their stories. That must have been quite an event.

      Gracious of you to admit publicly that you were errant in your initial view of Carroll. We’ve all been conditioned by our increasingly superficial culture to provide hot takes in order to stay contemporary. It’s the part of my business I most dislike.

    • tor5

      I hear ya. I was a UCLA Bruin when Carroll was across town coaching the detested Trojans. But, man, he won me over long ago. He seeks to transcend football in how he encourages his players–and all of us–to be better people. An inspiration. Still hate the lowly Trojans though.

  • Seattle Psycho

    I was able to catch it live for the most part (missed the first minute or two from Pete). I listened intently and enjoyed hearing what everyone had to say. Found myself patiently waiting for them to call your name Art for your questions.

    • art thiel

      Good of you to notice, SP.

  • Archangelo Spumoni

    A fine column from a talented wordsmith and we are lucky to be able to read Mr. Art’s work product.
    Many thanks, Sir.

    • art thiel

      I bow in your general direction, Mr. Spu.

  • jafabian

    During his time with the Seahawks as Head Coach we’ve seen Pete Carroll encourage the players to be more than just players. Some do exactly that, a few have taken that freedom for granted. But it’s rare in the NFL to have a coach that cares about his team’s players as people. ( To my knowledge Mike Holmgren was also a coach who thought more highly of his players that most other coaches.) If more stories like Jamal Adams recruiting story can come to light hopefully the right person will hear those stories and will be inspired to initiate change. Rosa Parks once said “To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.”

    • art thiel

      In my experience around sports, episodes similar to Adams are rife. We’re just hearing about them in volume now because telling truth to power is seen as less risky. But not without some risk.

  • BD

    Couple of points…

    Kudos to Pete Carroll for once again stepping outside of his coaching box and trying to compassionately make a difference. While at USC, I recall he attempted to address the gang issues that were plaguing that city and our nation. I would suggest one thing; ya gotta finish.

    On fear; I agree with the Black players that white America does not seem to understand the fear that many of them grew up with and continue to live under. But are police officers all that they fear? Question; why do a lot of young Black athletes by handguns for self-protection? Who are they protecting themselves from when they buy those guns? And why are they carrying those guns in their cars and into bars and airports? Is it because they fear being stopped by the police or are they fearing someone or something else?

    Since we are discussing fear and Michael Bennett was mentioned…two words…Las Vegas. imo, video shows that Michael Bennett acted like a cowardly fool at a casino in Las Vegas, so much so that he attracted the attention of the local police, who legally detained him due to his odd behavior. He then publicly lied about the circumstances of that detention and attempted to turn it into something that it wasn’t. So I’m not sure if you want a coward, liar and a fool as your poster child on this topic.

    On Trump; When a human being maxes out on the Seven Deadly Sins; pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth, but shows absolutely no aspects of the Seven Heavenly Virtues; faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, temperance and prudence…this a person who should have absolutely no control over others. Because if you can’t control yourself, how can you be expected to control others? (which is also something for any police officer that might be reading this to consider). imo, Trump is very bad for America and my singular hope is that he doesn’t continue as President of these United States (There. Hopefully that satisfies anyone in here who has assumed that I’m wearing a MAGA hat as I type. But really folks, should that be a reason for an “up or down” click on a comment? Whether a person wears a MAGA hat or not?)

    On perspective; my very first contact with the police was when I was a 19 year old college student. It was 5pm and I was walking down the sidewalk to get a burrito, perfectly sober, no crimes of any kind being committed. Which is when I was jacked up hard by two white cops. It was…disturbing because they were rude and obnoxious and I was afraid. fyi, I’m white. They never explained why they stopped me and when they left, I assumed that they were just a couple of ignorant, unprofessional morons that didn’t like college boys. But, maybe from their perspective, they had a good reason to stop me? I mean, maybe I fit some kind of description of a person that was up to no good? But I’ve often considered how I would perceive that incident if I were Black. And as I’ve moved forward in my life, I have never put all police officers in the same box that I have mentally placed those two, unprofessional knuckleheads. Most cops, imo, are good people doing a very difficult and dangerous job and I am thankful that they are willing to put themselves in harms way on a daily basis so that you and I can live free of some of our fears.

    Because we all live our life in some kind of fear, don’t we? Will I get sick and die from the Covid? Will I still have a job when all this madness is over? Will it ever be over? What career path should I be on? Will I be able to pay my rent or mortgage next week? Will I be able to feed my kids? Should I be in this neighborhood, walking or driving down this street? Should my children be wherever they happen to be, doing whatever it is they are currently doing? Will I make the team? Am I going to get shot on this traffic stop (asked by both the citizen and the police officer)? There is an endless list of things to fear and it is human nature for all of us to fear something at some time in our daily lives. So I will leave all y’all with this;

    Fear is the mind-killer.

    Fear can be a good thing. It can keep us from doing stupid stuff. It can get us out of bed and moving forward when we don’t want to. It can keep us from places we shouldn’t be and people we shouldn’t be with. It can keep us form repeating the same mistakes over and over again…if we listen. Fear can also drive positive change. But…either we control the fear of the fear controls us. And when you live with invented, irrational fears, based on false perception with little fact, that’s a life being lived poorly.

    “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

    ― Frank Herbert, Dune

  • Kirkland

    I recommend reading his book “Win Forever”, which outlines his theories of getting the most out of the people you lead as well as yourself.

    • art thiel

      Good point. Published in 2010, he hasn’t wavered in his truths.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art – hell of a column and finish! I’m pumped!

    • art thiel

      Thanks.

  • Stephen Pitell

    Excellent reporting, Art. I appreciate you. I couldn’t help noticing your alliteration, “….. [Trump will] disrupt, distract, discourage and divide a nation for whose laws he has little regard.”