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Jets' Willie Colon: Comments about race bring backlash

New York Jets guard Willie Colon (66) adjusts

New York Jets guard Willie Colon (66) adjusts his hair during training camp in Cortland, N.Y., Friday, July 25, 2014. Credit: Hans Pennink

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Speaking up can come at a price. When broader-scale issues such as race intersect with NFL story lines, players find themselves in an uncomfortable position. No one knows that better than Willie Colon.

"If you're going to talk about a topic, be educated about it. And also, be ready to take the feedback and the backlash," Colon told Newsday after practice Wednesday. "You can't put something out there and then be like, 'Well, I didn't mean this.' "

During Tuesday night's episode of "Inside the NFL" on Showtime, Jets receiver Brandon Marshall said he's talked to many players who believe race played a role in the DeflateGate ruling that vacated the four-game suspension of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

"There are a lot of players out there that believe that white players, specifically at the quarterback position, are treated differently," Marshall said, adding that there are, "at times," different standards for white and black players and different standards of discipline.

The backlash was immediate, but Marshall was a no-show in the locker room Wednesday. His absence meant teammates were forced to answer for him.

Some Jets were uncomfortable with the topic. Others highlighted the challenge of being "good citizens" while acknowledging "there are some legit issues all players deal with."

"I always get annoyed with, you want me to go back to my community and hand out turkeys and backpacks and be this great guy," Colon said, "but when we have serious issues that affect us, as far as race or racial profiling and everything that goes along with it. It's almost taboo if we talk about it.

"But you've got to understand those issues still affect our community and people want to know our opinions about those issues. And if we're not able to speak up on it, we kind of come off fake. And that's the hardest thing I deal with."

Coach Todd Bowles said he had "no problem" with Marshall expressing himself, but he cautioned he must be careful his words aren't misinterpreted.

"I think his opinion is well warranted in what he said," Bowles said. "I'm sure we had cases back when I played. I've seen some things, just like he's seen some things. I'm not on that platform; he is. He's got to be smarter. You can say things and they come out a different way than what you mean it."

Colon agreed.

"Any time you bring up race, it's never coming back to you positive. Bottom line," he said. "So, Week 1, when all eyes should be on us playing football, you figure there's maybe another time you can use that type of forum for that."

Colon said he thought DeflateGate and the subsequent ruling were "bigger than race" because "any time the emphasis is on cheating and discrediting the game itself, you're affecting everything. There's a ripple effect."

But he also defended Marshall's opinion. "I don't think [Marshall] was wrong for what he was saying," Colon said, "but maybe, just the timing was bad."

D'Brickashaw Ferguson said it's difficult wearing "different hats" as athletes, role models and respected voices in their communities.

"Sometimes it can be challenging to appease everyone," the Freeport native said. "You're not just representing yourself, you're representing the team you're on and your family. So even though you might want to say something that's isolated based off your thoughts, I don't think it'll be received in that manner."

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