Solomon Wilcots: Former NFL star calls for action in the US after death of George Floyd
"It's been said that there comes a time when silence is a betrayal."
By Cameron Hogwood
Last Updated: 04/06/20 3:05pm
"I think there comes a time when you have to speak up. Rightfully, there also comes a time for action."
Former Cincinnati Bengals safety Solomon Wilcots has urged people to address the issue of policy brutality in America head-on following the death of George Floyd.
Floyd died on May 25 as a result of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck for several minutes. Chauvin has since been sacked and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, while protests have taken place across America calling for change.
A number of NFL teams and players have also spoken out and released statements on social media condemning the actions that led to Floyd's death.
"I think it is important to speak up," said Wilcots, a Senior Analyst for Pro Football Focus. "It's been said that there comes a time when silence is a betrayal.
"To see an injustice and remain silent, in some ways it makes us an accomplice to the injustice that we're seeing every single day. How can you live in this country and see the things that happened to George Floyd and not be appalled by it?
"I think with this league, at the end of the day, men are really tested when our ideals and economic situation are in conflict.
"I have this strong emotion to want to help and reach out and make right the wrongs I see every single day. But oh by the way, my economic situation could be compromised. Now that's where true courage has to prevail.
"That's where the heart of a people and a community has to be much stronger than love for the economic situation."
Wilcots also paid tribute to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for taking a stand against police brutality and racial oppression in 2016 by kneeling during the national anthem.
President Donald Trump called on protesting players to be fired at the time, while the NFL introduced policy requiring all players to stand during the anthem or stay in the locker room.
Kaepernick was deemed a 'distraction' by some and has subsequently been unable to find another job in the NFL.
"We have 32 owners, 32 billionaires and they're investing in one side that is contradictory to the statements you see being put out," continued Wilcots.
"When Colin Kaepernick was protesting, you know what he was protesting? He was protesting exactly what happened to George Floyd.
"Then somebody came along, President Trump, who owners gave a lot of money to and donated a lot of money to his campaign, and he came and hijacked that message and told the American public and anyone that was listening that Colin Kaepernick was protesting against the American flag, that he was protesting against the military.
"It was Nate Boyer, a former military serviceman, that asked Colin Kaepernick 'take a knee with me, if you take a knee that is a sign of respect for our service men and women and a sign of this great nation'."
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees caused controversy on Wednesday by saying he would "never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America" after being questioned on the prospect of players kneeling during the anthem in the wake of Floyd's death.
Brees issued an apology on Thursday, admitting that he "made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country".
"All the service men and women you talked to said they fought for the right for Colin Kaepernick to express his descent," said Wilcots.
"That's what he was doing, protesting against the injustice that was taking place on our American streets at the hands of local law enforcement.
"We've got to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. If speaking the truth makes you uncomfortable then I think we really need to take note of the environment in which we live, where if we speak truth our jobs are threatened, our way of life is threatened.
"Something is wrong with the environment if we're feeling threatened just for protecting people and standing up for justice."
Wilcots recalls his grandfather and father teaching him as a child the importance of being 'submissive' and 'always respectful' when it came to local law enforcement. It's something he has taught his own children and a reality that friends who are not of African American descent remain unable to fathom.
Though they may live privileged lifestyles, Wilcots insists African American athletes won't turn their backs on those from different communities.
He explained: "These are things that back in the sixties you heard Muhammad Ali talking about, you saw Jim Brown, you saw Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
"You saw many of the great athletes coming together for civil rights and many people tried to get them to remain silent and be happy with the fact that they had achieved some social-economic success.
"But what they could not do was turn their back on other African Americans who had not achieved that great American dream who were struggling in their local communities to break through, to be heard, to be treated fairly.
"Now you're finding athletes who are white who are speaking out because guess what? They're friends with African Americans. They grew up playing sports with African Americans and they understand that they have sometimes been misled or told things about some people that are untrue."