INDIANAPOLIS — The national uproar about another police shooting of a black man hits close to home for Indianapolis Colts center Ryan Kelly.
Kelly is the son of a police officer, Dave, who served for 30 years in Ohio. So he sees both sides of the societal unrest, which boiled over again this week after a white police officer shot a black man in the back seven times on Sunday in Kenosha, Wis.
As a white football player with several black teammates, he learned a great deal from two days of Zoom meetings in March, when players shared their stories about facing racism. Six hours of testimony in two days opened Kelly’s eyes to just how painful the situation has been for teammates and continues to be.
Kelly is one of the toughest guys in the Colts locker room, a 2019 Pro Bowl star, a no-nonsense leader, and a member of the team’s player council. So it was quite unexpected to see Kelly get choked up when talking about the unrest in a Friday Zoom video call.
“My dad was a cop for 30 years, so I grew up in that lifestyle,” he said. “Every February, I go to Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), Indiana Chapter, I go to their ball, they have it over in Shelbyville at the casino. I listen in that room and (clears throat) I hear the families of officers who have been shot in the head, killed in the line of duty, hit by cars, just horrendous things, doing their job.
“It’s hard, man. It is. It is hard to just hear those families (of those) who are never coming home. So it’s tough for me. Just, um …”
He cleared his throat again, then turned his head, and said, “Give me a sec.”
After a few moments, Kelly cleared his throat and finished the comment.
“It’s hard for me to see that happen, you know?” he said. “I know there are good cops out there. That’s the thing that hurts me. And then you see, you know, bad apples out there as well, who tarnish the name of other people. I hate to see pain on either side.
“I’m happy that there’s tough conversations that we have. Every side hurts a little bit. Hopefully, we can narrow that gap and make it a better community.”
Earlier, Kelly was asked if he was frustrated by an ongoing issue that hasn’t changed despite continual nationwide protests. His answer spoke to what the Colts stressed in a unified on-field statement earlier in the day, that it’s imperative for the team to use its wide-ranging platform to make a positive change in the Indianapolis community.
“To be honest right now, it feels like the country is just kind of out of morality at this point,” he said. “It’s tough to get on the news. It’s tough to see, just to get on social media every single day is exhausting. Imagine if you’re working 9-to-5 and in your spare time you get on social media, you get home, and it just sucks the life out of you. You just don’t feel like there’s any hope in the world. Obviously there’s evil out there, every single place you look. If you look hard enough, there’s evil. They will never eradicate that.
“I truly believe that we have something special here. We have a platform that we can reach out and help people. There’s going to be people hurting every day. The system is never perfect. It doesn’t matter who you elect, this, that, and the other, there’s always going to be someone struggling, someone doing this and that. In Indianapolis, I think we do an incredible job with our community here, of making sure that our presence is known. How can we help? How can we do this and that?”
He credited the Irsay ownership family, general manager Chris Ballard, and head coach Frank Reich for their roles in promoting the importance of the team and players making a difference in community outreach.
“That’s what I truly believe in,” Kelly said. “I believe we’ll overcome all this. The city will be a better place when we’re gone. That’s our goal, that we can set up these places now and get community Mondays to be a thing where, look, we’re going to take a cop this day, we’re going to visit the juvenile detention center, or we’re going to give out food but we’re going to bring the police along.
“When you separate both sides, right, you separate the police, you separate the fear of the police, when the separation keeps growing, there’s got to be communication by both. You’re never going to be able to understand each side if there’s not conversation. That’s where with my background in law enforcement and helping those people, I feel like that’s what I bring to this council. We can still hear each other out. Both sides aren’t perfect. There’s equal blame on each side and it’s been tough to see. I think there’s a level of distrust on both sides.
“As NFL players and as a member of this community and this city, I hate to see that. I want to see this city be the light that every other city can go off of, and that’s community working together, so that one kid who sees that cop go by, he’s got a relationship with him. He doesn’t just see him as somebody who ‘might arrest me’ or ‘might take me to jail’ or ‘ruin my life.’ I hate that. I don’t want that fear to be there. I hear guys’ stories, you know? It’s tough to hear, knowing that there are good cops out there.”
Kelly said he’s had police officers contact him to inquire about what they can do to make the situation better.
“I’ve had a lot of cops reach out to me, just talking, ‘Hey, what can we do? I’d love to be involved,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, it makes their job easier if they have a connection with the city and vice versa.
“I really believe that we can make a change, and I think we will.”
(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)