INDIANAPOLIS — As an Indianapolis Colts reserve linebacker, Zaire Franklin’s voice isn’t often heard.
It sure was on Friday.
The third-year pro was the second of four speakers to make an on-field statement after practice, when quarterback Jacoby Brissett, Franklin, head coach Frank Reich, and general manager Chris Ballard reiterated the team’s commitment to improving the Indianapolis community in a time of nationwide protests denouncing racism and police brutality.
Then on a Zoom video call, Franklin didn’t hold back in making his opinions known about how a nation as well as police continue to struggle with their treatment of black people.
“A lot of people feel like professional people shouldn’t be activists,” Franklin said. “I’m not an activist. I’m a football player. But I was a black man before I ever picked up a football.
“As someone from a minority community in North Philadelphia, I’ve had cousins, brothers, and sisters go to prison, and come out and see all kinds of things happen in my community growing up, to continually see that as I left and went to college and even now in the NFL, I feel like it’s important for me to be that voice and champion of my people and just kind of speak for them. I know I may be heard and I know they may never be heard.”
The 2018 seventh-round selection, who has played in all 32 games and made 30 total tackles in two seasons, reiterated the team’s pledge that the situation demands the Colts to make a positive difference in the community.
The Colts didn’t practice Thursday, instead choosing to continue team meetings to discuss what can be done in the wake of another black man being shot by a white police officer on Sunday in Kenosha, Wis. The Colts players and coaches registered to vote on Thursday.
Franklin was asked for his reaction to dealing with another nationwide outcry like when George Floyd was suffocated to death by a Minneapolis police officer in May. That prompted worldwide protests.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” Franklin said. “Just to see where our country is at and still is, it’s tough. We need wide-scale change.
“It’s tough and it’s hard to think that this is a situation that we constantly deal with over and over again. I remember a week in college, it felt like every other day it was another hashtag. To see the events transpire in Wisconsin, the video of Jacob Blake being shot, the vigilante or terrorist walking past police officers with an AR-15, it’s troubling, to say the least. I’m trying not to get emotional, but it hurts.”
Franklin mentioned how, after the Floyd death, the team took two days to allow players to share their experiences with racism in Zoom video conference calls. Franklin noticed how fellow linebackers Bobby Okereke, Anthony Walker, and Darius Leonard each shared stories about discriminatory experiences with police. Franklin did, too. All four come from different areas in the country.
“How did these four individuals who have completely different backgrounds, we grew up differently, how do we all have extremely similar situations in interactions with police officers?” he said. “It showed that it’s truly a situation and a problem in our country that needs to be addressed.”
(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 email@example.com.)