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An Undefeated Conversation

Brandon Marshall, Anthony Anderson and more get real about race and responsibility at The Undefeated’s Super Bowl forum

The discussion dug deep on athlete activism and where we go from here

HOUSTON – A panel of current and former NFL players discussed race relations, current issues and social responsibility as public figures during a two-hour session at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts on Friday afternoon.

The discussion, which was split up into two hourlong panels, was part of The Undefeated’s first public forum of the year: “A Conversation on Race, Sports & Culture.”

The first panel: “Black Stars – Navigating Professional Responsibility and Personal Passion,” featured New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall and actor Anthony Anderson. The second, “Players in the Media – Black Athletes Talking Black Athletes” featured former players Willie McGinest, Ryan Clark and Domonique Foxworth.

Much of the discussion between the two panels was centered on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose protest of the national anthem this season has sparked numerous debates about the role athletes and public figures play in current affairs.

Marshall said Kaepernick’s protest, which began as demonstration against the oppression of minorities in the United States, has opened the doors for other athletes to move beyond their previously defined roles as simple sports figures.

“There’s a lot of times where, the way I look at it is, athletes are institutionalized,” Marshall said. “We’re told, ‘You’re a wide receiver, just catch that ball and stick to that.’ I think now, with what Colin Kaepernick has done and LeBron James how he’s taking a stance on things, is really paving the way for young men and women to say, ‘You know what? I can be myself.’ ”

How do athletes balance their personal beliefs versus their responsibility to their team?

“You absolutely are obligated to the people you live with, do life with and have partnership with,” Marshall said, pointing out how one teammate can affect another in a positive or negative light. However, some issues are too important to ignore, he said.

“The best way to answer that question is boundaries,” Marshall said. “We’re a team, at the end of the day we’re here to win. We do this because we love it. What I do affects you. … At the end of the day, you’ve got to have boundaries, but I still say that there’s some things, you got to say, to hell with those boundaries. When there’s social injustices, that’s when you’ve got to say, what’s wrong is wrong. And that’s when you take a stance like Colin Kaepernick did, and you take a knee. There’s a lot of people that’s ticked off about that, but he’s making progress. … One man started a movement.”

Kaepernick’s protest, and the resulting conversation it has sparked, is just one example of how race relations can play out in the locker room and beyond.

February 3, 2017 on the campus of the University of Houston in Houston, Texas.

February 3, 2017 on the campus of the University of Houston in Houston, Texas.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

“When you do this job, it comes with a level of responsibility, a level of accountability,” said Clark, an ESPN analyst who drew both criticism and praise for wearing a Kaepernick jersey during a TV appearance. “We were joking earlier when you [called us] ‘former black athletes.’ But that’s the thing, I will always be black, and it’s not an excuse to do certain things, it’s not a crutch for certain things, but that is a fact, and that won’t change.”

The second panel also discussed the media’s portrayal of African-American athletes and how they handle coverage as both former players and current media members.

“It’s hard to shake our preconceived notions,” Foxworth said. “We all have assumptions from growing up in this culture, we have assumptions, whether we want to admit it or not, about black men. And on the occasion when black men fall into those stereotypes and fit those assumptions, I think the media is quick to stick to those kind of old tropes … because people are comfortable that way. I think it’s a lot more difficult to go outside of that and try to approach things differently no matter what the race is. It’s not a problem the media has, I think it’s just a problem of human nature. … We have these biases.”