Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes knew the backlash he might face when he decided to participate in a social media video last Thursday following the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
Mahomes, the NFL’s top star after winning the AP MVP and Super Bowl MVP in back-to-back seasons, stared into the camera and was the first player to declare, “Black Lives Matter.”
“I feel like whatever decision you make, there’s going to be positives and negatives,” said Mahomes, understanding that such a topic might lead to varied responses. “And that’s the world that we live in today, but I believe in both my statement and the video I made that stuff needed to be said. We needed to come together as a group, as players, and show that we believe Black Lives Matter, and we believe this needs to be informed and we need to be the role models who go out there and take that step.”
Later that night, the Chiefs showed their support by quote-tweeting the video, one in which Mahomes’ teammate Tyrann Mathieu had also chosen to take part.
Mahomes said it felt great to have the support of the Chiefs, including team owner Clark Hunt, president Mark Donovan and head coach Andy Reid.
“I love it,” Reid said when asked about his players’ participation. “I see [the players’ leadership] every day. That’s why I get fired up — and it’s been that way since I’ve been a coach. This generation. I’ve been a coach for a couple generations now and that’s why I get fired up. Every week [the media] asks me, ‘Hey I see you sitting with Patrick and talking.’
“And I tell you every week, ‘I listen to what Patrick says. I listen to Eric Bieniemy, Mike Kafka.’ I listen. Right? I listen. How important is that? I think it’s a beautiful deal. Dig in and try it. You know? Let’s try it. And everybody. I grew up in the city — for every race there’s a gang, right? Let’s pump the brakes. Let’s pump the brakes and try to see the good in each other, man. And it’d work out better. It’d work out better for everybody. We’re all humans — and that’s the beauty of it. We’re blessed to be here.”
Before Mahomes told Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, who organized the video, that he would be a part of it, he tapped into his support system — which includes Thomas, Reid, his godfather LaTroy Hawkins and his father — the former pro baseball player who has been a guiding light for the quarterback since he entered the league.
“It’s something that I’m always going to be informed of my decision and understand there’s going to be good and there’s going to be bad, but if I believe something, and I truly believe it, like coach Reid says, ‘Let my personality show.’
“I’m going to stand behind my words. I’m going to take whatever consequence that comes with it, and hopefully they’re positive, but I’m going to be the best person I can be first — whatever that is.”
Mathieu, too, told his story of being contacted by Thomas.
“When he first reached out to me, I thought it was a great idea,” Mathieu shared. “He actually needed a couple more guys, that he was just trying to see who had the most influence, who would be willing to put the name out there, so it was good to see a bunch of guys with great influence throughout the NFL be a part of that. I think our social responsibility — I think it goes far beyond the football field. I think we have a true impact in our communities. I think we’re able to influence masses of people, and for us, it’s about owning that and doing it the right way and being conscious that the only way we’re ever going to get any kind of change is if both sides are willing to change. That’s the biggest thing — fall forward together.”
The NFL saw the players’ message and responded a day later, with commissioner Roger Goodell admitting the league had previously been wrong for not listening to their players closely enough.
We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter. #InspireChange pic.twitter.com/ENWQP8A0sv— NFL (@NFL) June 5, 2020
Mahomes said he has since been in contact with the commissioner.
The NFL will presumably have a chance at a do-over this fall after taking an approach it now regrets three years ago, when quarterback Colin Kaepernick was shunned and pushed out of the league altogether for his peaceful protesting. Some players, like Mathieu, are looking at the situation as a do-over on their side as well.
“I know for a lot of us, it’s been going on a while,” Mathieu said. “Most of us would consider this the second time around. The first time around, a lot of us didn’t speak up. A lot of us wasn’t vocal for many reasons. I just think right now, collectively, everybody just wants to see just everything pushed forward the right way, and I think it’s important.”
Mathieu would like to see Kaepernick back in the league. He has reached out to Drew Brees, someone he said he admired as a young football player — and like Mahomes, he has also had conversations with Hunt. With Hunt’s help, Mathieu and Mahomes are pushing to make voting cool again.
Asked directly if he would take a knee during the national anthem to peacefully protest this fall, Mahomes said the matter is bigger than the actions of any one player.
“It’s not about who kneels and who doesn’t kneel,” he said. “It’s about having the right to peacefully protest and to recognize that social injustices are happening and that racial inequality does happen every single day, and I just want the community to be somewhere where everybody, including black people, feel like they can go into the community and be safe. And whatever actions we can take to do that, it’s all about doing that as quickly as possible.”
Mathieu outlined his hopes for their efforts.
“Obviously, you’d like stop seeing people killed,” Mathieu explained. “You would like to see more people step up no matter what side of the fence they’re on. And I think, most importantly, like I continue to mention, it’s all about us coming together collectively, and we all come from different parts of the world. We all come from different spaces in our lives, and I think the most important thing to understand is that in order to move forward, we’re going to have to love each other. We’re going to have to listen to begin to understand each other, and I just look at the world as such a big place, such a beautiful place. And if we are able to come this far with so many issues, imagine how far we can go if everybody collectively works together.”
That may have started with a video that did its job in shocking the system. But the message runs deeper. With the support of the Chiefs and Reid, Mahomes and Mathieu want to use their platforms to see the world to a better place.