Former Lions offensive lineman Ray Roberts, who spent the last five years of his NFL career in Detroit and helped pave the way for Barry Sanders’ record-setting rushing performance in 1997, now works as an analyst for Seattle Seahawks broadcasts. On Tuesday, he was a guest on a 710 ESPN Seattle radio show to share his thoughts on racial inequality and social justice in America.
Here’s a transcript of the statement he read. You can listen to the full audio from his interview here:
"I first want to say thank you to those that are down for the cause and willing to sacrifice more than their words to create change. I am not a fan of the looting, robbing, stealing and violence, however, I am unapologetic as it relates to the intensity of the peaceful protesters and the discomfort it may produce for those sitting on their hands and finding every excuse imaginable and choosing to be distracted from the underlying issues.
This is my truth — agree, disagree, or agree to disagree, I really do not care. My truth does not represent the truth of all African Americans, but it was influenced by similar and often the same life experiences we all share. I have a lot on my mind and most of it is fueled by anger, frustration, disappointment and sadness, so what I’m going to say is what’s on my mind at the moment. I would like to take this time to paint a picture that I hope will replace the images of the last few days and lead to a level of understanding, sympathy and empathy, and actionable, measurable change. I do not have all the answers and this is not intended to help you figure out what to do. That’s your work.
In 1619, the first Africans were kidnapped and brought to this country. They landed on the shores of Virginia, a place called Point Comfort of all places, and were auctioned off and sold into slavery. From that moment, the blood that ran through the veins of this country did not run for us. The heartbeat of this country did not beat for us. We were never intended to share in its success or live freely within its borders. Think about that, then consider this. Enoch Waters, who graduated from Hampton University in 1933 and worked for the Chicago Defender, the nation’s largest black daily newspaper, and became the editor of the Associated Negro Press, wrote a piece entitled “The Only American.” It reads: “The black man is the only American who came here not seeking freedom, because he had been robbed of it. Not looking for a home, because he had been snatched from his. Not as a fugitive from persecution, because it awaited him. Not in search of opportunity, because it was beyond his reach. Not in pursuit of happiness, because he had left it behind. Not hoping for love, because there was none for him. And not willingly, because he came as a slave in chains.”
Think about that. Paint that picture in your mind and sit with it.
Also sit with this: There were multiple generations of black people born in this country that never experienced freedom. I will say it again: There were multiple generations of black people born in this country that never experienced freedom.
Fast forward to the life and times of my grandfather, Warren Henry Roberts. He served and fought for this country. He fought for freedoms and rights that he did not have access to in this country. When he returned home, he was still called the N-word. He could not eat in the same restaurants or drink from the same water fountains as his fellow white soldiers. He could not sit in the same classrooms or live in the same neighborhoods. The back door was still the expected entrance to most establishments. He did not have the same access to healthcare, education, jobs or housing that the white soldiers had. He could be beaten or even murdered for just looking at a white woman, and many of the perpetrators of these actions were white dudes who fought alongside him. So when I think about Colin Kaepernick kneeling and all of the shouts are ‘He’s disrespecting the flag, the military and this country,’ my blood boils. Our sacrifice for this country is unmatched, and it’s not even close.
Now fast forward to the life and times of my father, Richard Ray Roberts Sr., and my uncles — and in this moment I don’t want to forget all the black women who suffer the most when black men are snatched from their lives and they’re not fathers, they’re not providers, they’re not husbands and they’re not someone to love on. They were denied opportunities, were tormented and had to face and endure blatant racism and hate, and had to bite, scratch and claw for limited resources and essential jobs. It saddens me to know that my dad’s best self was diminished and limited because of systems, mindsets and people who did not value him as a man or as a human.
Then I think of my life. The things I’ve seen. As a kid I witnessed Klan marches in my town. The summer before ninth grade while on a bike ride with my cousin, I was chased by a group of white dudes. I crashed and broke my wrist. I missed the beginning of the football season because of it. And I cannot count the number of times I’ve been called the n-word. My mother was told by my elementary school principal that I should attend a college that focused on football because I would never graduate from the University of Virginia. I felt like I wasn’t completely welcome at the University of Virginia. Even as a player in the NFL while a member of the Detroit Lions, I was pulled over and asked to explain how I could afford such a nice car, or what work did I do to afford it. I was also stopped through my own neighborhood and asked why was I there. I was stopped in Redmond, Wash., just a little ways from my home, and asked if I was lost.
Then I think of more recent things, like athletes being told to stick to sports or players being called SOBs by the president. To African American men being murdered by those who are sworn to protect. When it comes to people of color and protests or push back in this country, it more times than not is met with force and aggression, while whites toting guns, assault rifles and who knows what else are free to move about and within a state capitol building, screaming in the faces of law enforcement and taunting them. Then I think to white mass shooters being apprehended alive and even taken to Burger King or even taken water to be made comfortable. And I see black men have died for selling cigarettes and CDs, while being stopped for a traffic violation, being killed while in cuffs, and like Mr. Floyd begging to breathe and shouting out for the comfort and safety of his already deceased mother. I can’t help but have images of slaves being beaten and hung to death, begging and shouting out for the comfort and safety of their motherland.
I could go on and on.
I believe and feel that what we are seeing and witnessing in this moment is an uncovering or exposing of a wound that was never meant to be tended to nor healed. We were expected to lay down, obey, fall in line, or bleed out. And honestly, guys, there is financial gain for some to keep it that way. CNN, FOX, other sports outlets, other media outlets and platforms all feed the beast. They lack cultural and racial representation, cultural awareness and competence, and engage in divisive language, opinions and programming because it drives listenership, and that fills bank accounts. It’s like a competition or sport in and of itself — who can be the most outrageous, the most controversial, the most divisive. It has become a game to gain the most listeners so that they can pat themselves on the back and feel good about their ratings and put money in their pockets, and although I appreciate the opportunity to speak freely on this station, Bonneville (International, owner of 710 ESPN Seattle) is just as guilty.
So to close, this is bigger than George Floyd, or Trayvon Martin, or Ferguson, or Martin Luther King Jr., or Malcom X. This is about a historical mindset and system that was never, never intended to benefit us, and we were never expected to defeat it or overcome it. And to those of you who are participating in the riots: Know that there are those who see this as an opportunity to destroy, rob and steal. Know that there are those covertly involved to instigate so that the peaceful protestors are blamed. Know that destruction and violence is how the other side expects and wants you to respond, so that they can use these actions so that they can distract themselves from the real issues and use as an excuse not to hear us. Know that if they can’t hear us, they cannot be challenged to defeat their own biases, 'isms, flawed mindsets, perspectives and actions. And if they can’t do that, they can’t have their hearts changed. And if they can’t do that, then policies and laws do not change. And if that happens, the future is bleak and we continue to lose and injustice continues to prevail.
And to those on the other side: You know the game that is being played. You know what the issues are, and you are choosing to be distracted. By doing so, you protect your level of comfort, and your comfort will be the reason our country will never be its best self. Choose to engage the discomfort of putting in the work. Challenge and defeat yourselves. It is an individual and personal journey, and use your privilege, access, resources, influence, knowledge and power to help make a difference and deliver change."