Learning Turns to Leadership for Carson Wentz

Playing a position that demands leadership on and off the football field, Carson Wentz spent most of his youth in North Dakota, sheltered from much diversity.
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PHILADELPHIA - John F. Kennedy once said "leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."

Carson Wentz is just 27 so he's probably not all that familiar with the 35th President of the United States but the Eagles' star quarterback is a good example of what JFK was talking about.

Playing a position that demands leadership on and off the football field, Wentz spent most of his youth in North Dakota, for the most part, sheltered from much diversity.

That all changed when he hit the NFL, of course, where the vast majority of the locker room is African-American in a time where emotions haven't been higher when it comes to civil rights and social-justice issues since the 1960s.

Whatever your perception, that's the reality and Wentz has done his best to evolve and be empathetic to those who have different life experiences.

"I'm growing up," Wentz said after practice Thursday in the wake of the latest high-profile police shooting of a Wisconsin man, Jacob Blake, that resulted in canceled games in other sports, as well as several practice sessions around the NFL. "I'm no longer just a kid from North Dakota that can just kind of use that card. There's hurting in this world."

Wentz has always worn his faith on his sleeve and has made a point to share his success in an altruistic fashion with many, whether it's building athletic fields in Haiti, feeding the less fortunate with his "Thy Kingdom Crumb" food truck initiative or his charity softball games in North Dakota and Philadelphia that help find his AO1 Foundation.

Now he's focused a keen eye on what has many of his teammates hurting emotionally and spiritually.

"For me as a follower of Christ, looking at his example through the Bible, he ran to the people that were oppressed, he ran to those that were hurting," Wentz explained to SI EagleMaven. "And that's our example. That's my example. That's who I look to."

Even with a platform as large as it gets in professional sports, the star quarterback of a marquee NFL franchise, Wentz understands his reach only goes so far but change starts at the local level and nothing is more local than one-on-one interaction with those you are closest to on a daily basis.

"For me, it's how can I be a helping hand? I don't have to fix it, I don't have to have all the answers, but how can I show empathy and how can I reach out to those that are oppressed and hurt? Wentz said. "And so again, I don't have all the answers, don't have the solutions, but I have a voice that I can share where there needs to be a voice, and I have ears that can listen and truly care when there's hurt going on.”

Wentz is also keenly aware that these are hot-button issues and not every fan or follower is going to like his approach.

"Everyone has their own opinion and is entitled to that opinion," Wentz said. "But at the end of the day, athletes have a unique platform, have the ability to reach a lot of people that usually wouldn't get reached, and have a voice to speak for the communities that are oppressed and whatever different causes are near and dear to each guy's heart."

On a personal level, Wentz admitted that he never thought much about other cultures in North Dakota.

“It's been a lot of learning and a lot of conviction on my heart, honestly,” he admitted. “Growing up in North Dakota … it's something that's kind of new and it's something that I've chosen to kind of just overlook and look past it. I went to high school, I think I had just a couple Black classmates. And it's something that was so foreign to me.

"And so now really, this offseason, I took a real look into showing empathy and understanding what has it been like to be a Black man in this world, in this country, and not just in today's world, but going back 400 years to now, and how we got to this point.”

There have actually been tremendous advances in civil rights and social-justice reform over the years in the country, something another team leader, veteran safety Rodney McLeod, doesn’t want lost in translation.

“In a sense, there has been a lot of good made," McLeod explained. "Do not misunderstand that. There have been a lot of positives, a lot of light has been shined on these situations. We have moved the needle, but I think it’s important to continue the messaging.

“... It’s going to take all of us to continue take real action each and every day. We can’t save the world, but we can all do our part to help make this world, maybe one percent better, and I think if we each take on that responsibility, we’ll make this world a better place.”

Wentz has listened to that mindset from his teammates, learned from it, and led from a more-educated perspective.

You can't ask for more than that.

"Right now with everything going on in our world, this is what's at the forefront," Wentz said. "And so, I think for guys to just sit back and not speak out, it would probably come across as insensitive and not caring about this world. There's hurt. I keep saying that and it's heavy on my heart. We can't just sit by and stay idle, because this is just how it's been, this is just another thing; that's not the case.

"I realized it's not going to just snap our fingers and have change and have all our issues figured out tomorrow, but it's something that we can start addressing publicly and creating those conversations and education so that we can begin the process of healing and the process of creating change in this country that is much needed.”

-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SportsMap Radio. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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