ALLEN PARK — Golden Tate saw the images rolling in from Charlottesville over the weekend. He saw the swastikas marching through American streets. He saw white men with torches yelling that they would not be replaced by Jews. He saw a woman, just three years older than him, run over by a car.
Then he saw President Donald Trump say there were good people on both sides. Even the side with the swastikas.
“It hurts to have those types of things happen,” the Detroit Lions receiver told MLive after practice on Wednesday. “For it to be supported by the leader of our country is even scarier.
“I haven’t read too much into it, but what I have read into it hasn’t been pleasing. It leaves us minorities with our hands up, like, ‘What can we do to protect ourselves? Who can we trust? What can we trust?’ I feel like a whole lot of Americans feel like they’ve been tricked. But at the same time, what is the leader of our country doing that he wasn’t already doing before he was elected? It’s saddening, man. It’s saddening. Because we’re supposed to be taking steps forward. We’re supposed to be moving over that hump. Instead, it just seems like things are getting worse. Only thing I can do is pray on it and try to lead this community otherwise.”
Tate is so upset, he says he would like to protest.
He’s not sure how he’ll do it yet. He supports Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who kneeled for the national anthem last season to protest police brutality. He also supports Michael Bennett, the Seahawks defensive end who sat with a towel over his head for the national anthem at Sunday’s preseason opener.
Bennett, the son of a veteran, said he couldn’t stand for the anthem after the events in Charlottesville. His protest is expected to last into the season. Tate wants to take a similar stand, although he’s not sure how yet because he doesn’t want to do it during the anthem.
“I haven’t thought about how I want to do it yet,” he said. “I want to definitely support what’s right for humanity, I just haven’t figured out what’s the appropriate way to do it. The way that’s going to get my point across, and not be misinterpreted.
“I want to talk with my support system, my family, my agency, and see what I can do. But I’m definitely all for it, and hopefully, if I choose to stand up for what I believe in, which is humanity and what’s right, hopefully I’m not blackballed out of this league.”
Tate’s comment was a clear reference to Kaepernick, who took San Francisco to a Super Bowl four years ago but has struggled to find work since his protest. He drew some interest from the Dolphins, who signed Jay Cutler out of the TV booth instead. He drew some interest from the Ravens, who signed a guy who hasn’t played in a game since 2013 instead (Thad Lewis). He drew some interest from the Seahawks, who took a pass as well.
Even Dan Orlovsky, the former Lions backup, found work with the Los Angeles Rams. But Kaepernick remains unemployed.
“I just feel like over the last four or five years, I’ve seen a lot of quarterbacks who aren’t very good at all get paid extensions,” Tate said. “And this guy who has gone to a Super Bowl, who has done well in arguably the best division in football, can’t find a job? I think that’s a little strange.”
Tate joins a growing number of players who have said Kaepernick is being blackballed, but even that isn’t stopping him from considering his own protest.
“Maybe I don’t know everything, but one thing I know: In America, there’s no room for racism and that type of behavior,” Tate said. “We’re past that, or least we’re supposed to be. And so to hear (Trump) say there are good people on that side, that shouldn’t even be … it’s wrong. It’s wrong.
“Don’t try to (sympathize with) why there’s a march with people celebrating white power. That’s messed up. That’s effed up. I don’t even know where to start.”
The march occurred at a rally called Unite The Right, where white nationalist groups clashed with protesters over the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. The scene turned deadly on Saturday, when a man drove his car into the crowd and killed a 32-year-old woman. At least 34 others were injured in violent clashes around the town, which is home to the University of Virginia.
Trump was later criticzed for remaining silent on the violence, then failing to condemn white nationalists by name when he did speak on Saturday. With criticism mounting, he finally criticized far right groups Monday.
“Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” Trump said.
But a day later, the president reverted to the tenor of his original statement, blaming both sides for the violence and seemingly defending white nationalists.
“You had some very fine people on both sides,” Trump said.
Tate wasn’t the only Lions player to pan the president for his comments.
“What’s most disheartening is people still try to make excuses for certain behaviors — especially people in positions of influence,” Lions running back Ameer Abdullah said. “They’re still making excuses for specifically what happened in Virginia. For me, that’s the most disheartening thing. We know what the issue is, it’s been laid out for us. And just need more people on board who won’t make excuses, but will make change.”
When asked who he was talking about, Abdullah said, “(Trump) and his followers.”
Politics have grown increasingly divisive these days, and Tate and Abdullah know they risk upsetting some fans who want them to “stick to sports.” But Abdullah, who is both an ethic minority (African American) and religious minority (Muslim) from Alabama, says it’s not in him to remain silent on a topic so important.
“They want athletes to stick to sports and everything, which to some degree I understand. But at the same time, I am a citizen in this country, and a taxpayer, and I feel like what I have to say is important,” Abdullah said. “I feel like that’s something people have to take into consideration, especially when they tell you to just stick to sports. Which, that’s what I do. I’m a sports guy. I’m in my film all the time, and I love that stuff. You telling me to stick to sports, I’m like, ‘All right. Thanks.’ Know what I mean? I love that stuff.
“But at the same time, you got to understand I’m a person and I care about people. I care about the well-being of people. I care about peoples’ mental psyche. I care about peoples’ mental health. And sometimes I see things such as what happened in (Charlottesville), I don’t understand peoples’ mental health. And to make an excuse for (what happened there) is my biggest issue.”
Asked about the violence, coach Jim Caldwell said he was disappointed, and then relayed a story about traveling the country with his grandsons to educate them about such matters. They went to Washington D.C. last year, and to the Civil Rights Musuem in Atlanta this year.
“It had a lunch counter that emulated the lunch counters of sit-ins, and so while they were sitting there, they had to put the headsets on, and all of the yelling, the screaming, name calling, etc.,” Caldwell said. “(My grandson) Trey put his hands on it and he took them off after about a couple minutes or so and he looked back at me and he said, ‘Papa Coach,’ he said, ‘That’s scary.’
“We thought it might’ve been something educational for him to see what went on back then. For us, growing up in the 60s obviously those things were part of our daily life in terms of what we witnessed on television. And so, I said, you know what, it’s probably good for him just to get a sense of it. Not realizing that within his lifetime, he’s going to see some of the same things on TV again. And that’s disappointing.”