As NFL owners and players met Tuesday night in Manhattan at the invitation of commissioner Roger Goodell, Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas shared a personal story about why he is so invested in the discussion about protests during the national anthem.
“I’m 30 years old, I drive a Mercedes, and when I get in my car and a cop gets behind me, I’m very, very nervous,” Casillas said after Thursday’s practice. “Don’t know why. When I was younger, it was the exact same thing when I was 16, 17 years old (in New Brunswick, New Jersey). I’ve got my daughter in my car. I don’t have anything illegal on me. I’m not doing anything illegal. I’m not drinking and driving — I don’t do stupid stuff like that. But if a cop gets behind me, I am so nervous.”
He recounted the times he has been pulled over by police.
“It’s happened to me several times, and in recent times,” he said. “It’s happened so many times, I can’t count. I have been pulled over for no reason. When they find out I’m a Giants player, they start a conversation with me.”
But Casillas knows he won’t be able to say he’s an NFL player all that much longer.
“I’m not going to be a football player all my life,” he said, “but at the end of the day, I’m still going to be a black man in America.”
Casillas isn’t sure what will become of the anthem protests, which became a central theme in the NFL last week after President Donald Trump delivered stinging criticism of players who have taken a knee or raised a fist. Where previously there were maybe a dozen or so players who had demonstrated to bring attention to racial injustice and police brutality in America, more than 200 protested last weekend. Three teams — the Steelers, Titans and Seahawks — didn’t appear on the field for the anthem, and players from many other teams locked arms as it was played. Several owners stood arm in arm with their players.
The Cowboys, whose owner, Jerry Jones, is a Trump supporter, took a knee with his team before the anthem at the Cowboys-Cardinals game Monday night in Arizona. His team stood during the anthem.
As players throughout the league continue to figure out whether additional protests will be forthcoming, Casillas wondered — and worried — whether the players’ message of seeking equality has been lost.
“Is kneeling conducive for us as players? Is it conducive for our league? Is it conducive for the guys that are actually kneeling?” he said. “Because there’s a guy who kneeled a long time ago, and he hasn’t seen the field since then.”
Casillas was referring to former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee during the anthem last season, but hasn’t been signed since voiding his contract with San Francisco in March. Casillas looks back with regret that more players didn’t support Kaepernick.
“Ever since he kneeled down, he’s only done the right thing,” Casillas said. “Maybe he didn’t do the right thing before that, the whole socks situation. (Kaepernick had been pictured wearing socks with pigs and police hats on them, which he said was to express his frustration with police brutality). But since he’s kneeled down, he’s only done the right thing. He’s donated his salary and jersey sales and all that.”
While not drawing a direct comparison to Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 sparked the civil rights movement, Casillas referenced Parks when trying to put Kaepernick’s mission into context.
“What Rosa Parks did was the craziest thing that anybody had done,” he said. “Disrespectful to white people, disrespectful to the country, disrespectful to the laws we had established back then. But you know what, the whole black race, minorities in general, were behind Rosa Parks, and stuff got done because of that. Laws were changed. And when Kaepernick kneeled, he didn’t receive any support from a lot of us. Are we really kneeling with him now? Are we? Or are we going against what President Trump said?”
Casillas hopes there can be a middle ground where players can get their message across while not angering fans wondering whether they will remain loyal to the NFL or tune it out because they no longer see it as strictly entertainment.
“Hopefully, we can make changes (in society),” Casillas said. “That’s all we want, and hopefully that can happen.”