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Washington’s DeAngelo Hall on the tough decisions facing players over the anthem protests

Those who want a career on the sidelines or in broadcasting have to weigh the impact of kneeling

DeAngelo Hall, 33, is a 14-year veteran NFL defensive back and three-time Pro Bowler. He hasn’t played for Washington, whom he signed with in 2008, since the third week of last season after suffering an ACL tear. He hopes to return to action soon. But he is on the sideline every week, and therefore he has a decision to make.

After Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, demanded that Cowboys players stand for the national anthem, and after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to teams indicating the league may mandate that players stand as early as next week, Hall spoke to The Undefeated’s Mike Wise about the options that most non-star NFL players are wrestling with this weekend.

Kneel during the anthem to protest racial injustice and show solidarity with other concerned players? Or protect their playing careers now and their potential livelihoods in the NFL later? It’s not an easy choice.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. Thank God it’s my 14th year and I don’t see myself playing much longer. I’ve thought about what would happen if I kneeled. I mean, you look at Colin Kaepernick. He made his choice. You have to take that into consideration.

Personally, I don’t recall ever kneeling. I don’t recall ever raising my fist. I do remember that we came out with our hands up as a DB unit a couple of years ago [to protest the shooting of Michael Brown outside of St. Louis]. I don’t think it made a big enough roar across the country. There probably was a little buzz in D.C. about it for a day or so. But it wasn’t anything that lingered past that week’s game.

This? This is so much bigger. So much is at stake with a decision like that for all of us. Even if I felt strong at the beginning of this, it’s turned into something so much more. Everybody has to make their own call, what they believe in, risk vs. reward, all that.

For me, it’s pretty clear: I’m not getting into a pissing match with nobody — the president and all these other owners, the owner I work for now and others that I might be working for one day. If your boss doesn’t believe in one thing and you really do, do you want to get into a pissing match with him? I told someone the other day: ‘Man, I love my family and my kids and the financial stability I have more than anything in this world.’ And so, to jeopardize that for them, it’s going to take a lot for me to do that.

When I’m done playing, I’m definitely doing something — TV or some front-office job. I would like to be a GM at some point. I don’t want to ruffle any feathers of future bosses or burn any bridges. I’ve been pretty good the last couple of years as far as trying to make some sort of legacy for myself when I’m done.

I would hate for one thing I say to be taken out of context and ruin all that.

The guys who don’t kneel this weekend are going to get some criticism for bowing down to the league and all that. But I don’t know if people quite understand why it might make better sense for the average NFL player to do what his employer tells him to. This isn’t the NBA. The NBA, the stars come in all sizes, shapes and colors, but for the most part it’s a black-dominant sport when it comes to those elite players: the Russell Westbrooks, the LeBrons, the Steph Currys. You can name 100 of the top NBA players and you probably only get one or two white guys.

While in football, the quarterback position is held in such prestige. If you named 50 of the top NFL players, I would like to think you would name 15 or so quarterbacks on that list. And that’s just a white-dominated position.

Fully guaranteed contracts in the NBA probably play a role in it too. If you had a guy making $100 million in the NFL and it was a fully guaranteed contract, he’d probably be able to voice his opinion on several social issues. But the NFL is a year-to-year deal.

You could be great one year and not great the second year and you’re in the process of taking a pay cut or getting cut. It’s definitely not LeBron James, who, if he was in the NFL, would be more powerful than The Shield. We don’t have that kind of leverage.

I think being hurt right now has shielded me a little bit from it. When this first started and I was an active player playing, maybe I would have taken a different approach. But for me to be on the sidelines, kind of helping, mentoring, coaching guys up, I didn’t want to draw any attention away from what they were doing. Even when I’m in the locker room, I ask media people why they want to talk to me instead of the guys that are playing.

I feel for the 52nd and 53rd guys on the roster right now, like, especially if they kneeled before, what do they do when Jerry Jones or Stephen Ross [in Miami] or someone else makes it clear your job is at stake?

You know what would be real interesting to me? I’d like to see what happens if Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott kneel. You’re telling me Jerry Jones is really not going to play them? It’s one of those situations where, will you really cut your nose off to spite your face?

If there is a real difference maker or star on your team, and he wants to take a stand, you know, I’d be interested to see what happens in that situation. Or even an Aaron Rodgers, a white guy who really isn’t affected by this socially, just to say, ‘I’m going to stand for my brothers.’

I’m not saying this is the civil rights movement, but my kids are studying the ’60s right now. They think it’s a black-white thing. I’m like, ‘No.’ I’m pulling up pictures now at home on the laptop. ‘You see this march? There’s tons, hundreds of thousands of white people who are standing arm to arm for the same injustices that are getting black people sprayed by water hoses.’ It’s definitely not a black-white thing. It’s trying to get a better world.

It’s essentially the same situation. If we’re all trying to fight for a better world, why wouldn’t everyone agree with each other to fight for the same cause?

Had I been playing, maybe I would have [protested], maybe I wouldn’t have; I don’t know. Because I wasn’t playing, I didn’t have to think about it. And so, my position is really that I’m just supporting my guys on that field — black, white, purple, pink. We all feel as though we’re brothers. I’m good friends with a white guy in the locker room, [fifth-year linebacker] Will Compton. That’s like my little brother.

We talk about some stuff. He sees things one way. I see things another way. But we still love each other. We still talk, go out to dinner and hang out. He’s still my little bro.

One more thing: I’m supporting everyone, no matter what they decide to do. It’s a tough decision, I know. This whole flag thing has gotten out of control, people trying to make the original message something else. Either way, we gotta stop pulling apart. All of us. We gotta come back together.

Liner Notes

This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Mike Wise is a former senior writer and columnist at The Undefeated. Barack Obama once got to meet him.