Ryan Tannehill was one of the first Tennessee Titans to voice his displeasure about George Floyd’s death. The quarterback took to Twitter on May 27 and took a stand against police brutality, racism and injustice in America.
It wasn’t just a knee-jerk reaction to current events. It was not the end of it either.
Earlier this week he posted his support for Black Lives Matter, complete with more information on how to donate, sign petitions, text/call local leaders, (and) learn more about these issues.”
During a video press conference Wednesday, Tannehill said everything changed for him and his beliefs in 2016 when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started league-wide protests during the national anthem to raise awareness of systemic racism and police brutality.
The action sent shockwaves through the country and NFL. Some supported the movement, others strongly opposed it.
Tannehill, then with Miami Dolphins, started to educate himself, and his main resource was his teammate Kenny Stills. Through books and conversations with Stills, Tannehill learned that it wasn’t about the flag, the military or the national anthem. It was much bigger than that.
“Realizing what he [Stills] has gone through in his life,” Tannehill said. “Getting ripped out of the car with his dad, having everything stripped out of the car for no reason. They weren’t even speeding. I can’t imagine being in that situation. There were books he gave me, New Jim Crow, Systemic Oppression and Systemic Injustices. I started digging more and more into it as time went on. My eyes kind of got opened to it.
“When the kneeling first started to happen, it was a shock. It hadn’t been done before. It was such a big thing. And that’s the point, right? A protest has to be able to get attention to spark conversation and inspire change. It was about injustice, raising awareness and getting people’s attention.”
Tannehill hasn’t stopped there.
Recently, he has been having similar conversations with one of his current teammates, wide receiver A.J. Brown. The Titans have held team-wide discussions as well and Tannehill said the experience of the African Americans on the roster unsettles him.
“Almost every single black guy on the team right now, they have all dealt with something at some point,” he said. “I want it to change. I want everyone to get the justice and equality that they deserve. I think those conversations have been really good. We had a big conversation throughout the whole offensive skill position [group]. Guys were able get things off their chest and share things that they have been through. It was really great for all of us to hear.”
Many professional teams, leagues, athletes and public figures have issued statements over the last two weeks, spurred by the death of Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
Action, Tannehill said, is the next step. And while he noted legislation is above his paygrade, change, it will require others to follow his example of awareness, education, discussion and understanding.
“More people are having an awakening to how deep it really is, how many layers of injustice there are with the court systems and policing,” he said. “This push is the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s been happening for far too long, and it’s gotten to the point where enough is enough.
“Once we have that education and awareness, we can all work together toward finding that equality that I would hope we’d all want.”