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Randy Moss: ‘We’ve got to put the attention on the right things’

The Hall of Famer’s tie was a jumping-off point for so much more

Randy Moss definitely made a bold statement with his unique tie, but it was actually a jumping-off point for so much more.

At last week’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, the former superstar wide receiver, who’s a member of 2018’s eight-man class, wore a black tie with the names of 12 African-American men and women, most of whom were killed by police or died in police custody, in gold stitching: Greg Gunn, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Paul O’Neal, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Akiel Denkins, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. During his speech, Moss, now an ESPN analyst, didn’t touch on police brutality, although his choice of neckwear revealed a lot. Without saying a word, Moss used his attire to take a stand for social justice.

Recently, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins used poster board.

While remaining silent at his dressing stall, Jenkins held up signs citing statistics about the struggle. Many NFL players are focusing on criminal justice reform and attempting to build bridges in communities with police. Despite their efforts to effect positive change, players have been attacked on social media by fans opposed to the new civil rights movement in sports.

Not surprisingly, the reaction to Moss’ display broke down along racial lines. Blacks roundly praised Moss for standing with the families of the victims, applauding him for capitalizing on his major platform. Then there was the other end of the spectrum: Racists called Moss the N-word and directed other racial invective at him for days on social media. Still, Moss wouldn’t have done anything differently.

In a long phone discussion Wednesday, Moss, who rarely consents to being interviewed, commented on his action at the Hall of Fame, his frustration about the nation’s widening racial divide and his desire to be part of the solution.

My intention was not to divide. We’re divided enough. My intention was to love. I just wanted to show those families that they’re not alone and bring some eyes and some light to the fact that, man, there’s still some families really hurting out here. We’re in a crisis right now. You understand what I’m saying? Some people don’t want to see it, but all you have to do is open your eyes. There’s so much going on, you know what I’m talking about, and people need to understand that. Back in February [shortly after Moss learned he had been inducted in his first year of eligibility], I told my tailor what I wanted to do. I just wanted some names on my tie. I knew there was going to be some controversy about it, and I didn’t care.

Sunday night, I’m driving home, I get a direct message on my Instagram from a police officer. The police officer is telling me, ‘Hey, buddy, I disagree with the criminals that you have on your tie. They broke the law.’ He’s telling me about all these criminals and thugs on my tie. Not all of them are criminals. Not all of them are thugs. Some were just kids. But, yeah, some broke the law. And they are considered criminals or thugs or whatever the hell you consider them. But people losing their lives all the time is not supposed to happen. It’s not what they deserved. What happened, and what happens so many times, is that … it’s just wrong. These people shouldn’t have lost their lives.

People are saying that instead of putting criminals and thugs on your tie, why don’t you put some people who are really of some importance? Why don’t you put the first responders from 911 or other law enforcement on your tie? They’re calling these people on my tie thugs and criminals. So the question I have is, how many times do you have to be arrested to be considered a thug? Realistically, in the black community, it takes only one mistake. And it really doesn’t matter how old you were or what you did in the rest of your life. That’s what you are for the rest of your life. You get what I’m saying? That’s the way it is for black people. But you look at some of these [white kids] who shoot up these schools. What you hear about them is that they’re not thugs. They’re mentally disturbed. They just need a little bit of help. That’s what you always hear.

Let’s say I put 15 to 20 first responders from 911 on my tie. So then I need to find 15 to 20 people who have never had any run-ins with the law. Nothing, right? No matter what they went on to do in their life, right? The point is that we’re all people. People make mistakes. But you shouldn’t lose your life for a lot of the reasons that people have been. Now, the police officer I was [texting with] agreed with me that some of those people should still be here. He agreed that they shouldn’t have lost their lives. That kind of made me feel good. We communicated about it and agreed on something. What I did, I didn’t mean it disrespectfully toward police. I didn’t call out any police officer or police department. I know police have tough jobs.

But I can’t ignore the other part of it. There are things that shouldn’t be happening. And then you have people in this country hurting from missing their loved ones. We just have to come together to admit what’s going on and try to fix it. I really want to try to help. I really want to try to be part of the solution. With all that said, I’m trying to find a way to auction off my tie to give the proceeds to the police and first responders. And I want to be able to give some to groups working with children.

But we’ve got to put the attention on the right things. We’ve got to admit to the problem. Everybody. What if black police officers around the country were going up in these white neighborhoods with rich white kids and started killing them? What would people say about that? What would be the reaction to that? A lot of people just don’t want to really talk about what’s going on. A lot of people don’t want to talk about the pain people are feeling out there. There’s a badass crisis in our country that’s happening every day. And then when you bring it up, when you just try to talk about the truth, you get all this flak.

The black community praised me and thanked me for shedding light on African-Americans dying. Then on the flip side, you’ve got sites where people are slamming me, saying ‘Hey, n—–, stay in your place.’ They’re saying, ‘You’re a dumb black jock. You just need to stick to playing football, n—–.’ All of this hate mail I’m getting for wearing a tie and talking about the truth. But I can handle it because I’ve been dealing with racism my whole life. I’ve deleted a lot of hate mail. Probably 150 to 200 messages the last few days. But that’s fine because I can speak out. A lot of guys don’t feel comfortable doing that.

Athletes are scared right now. A lot of athletes, most guys, don’t want to talk about this. They’re terrified for their careers. They’re terrified about losing their occupation, which is how they feed their families. Black athletes know they’re being treated a certain type of way. Most guys can’t really voice their opinions. They’re worried about getting the same type of treatment that Colin Kaepernick got.

Over 20 athletes in the NBA and National Football League have direct-messaged me about what a great job I did. There are a lot of athletes in the National Football League right now saying to me, ‘Hey, big homie, way to go, man. Way to speak up for us.’ I’ve got black celebrities hitting me up. I didn’t do it for the publicity. I did it for what’s right for families that need this support. They need it right now. And I’m not going to stop. We can’t stop.

Liner Notes

One of the greatest big-play wideouts in NFL history, Moss was at his best on deep balls. With a rare combination of height (he was listed at 6 feet, 4 inches), speed and leaping ability, Moss often outjumped defensive backs to come up with the ball in the end zone. The 1998 Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year, Moss led the NFL in receiving touchdowns five times. He was a four-time first-team All-Pro and a six-time Pro Bowler. With 156 career touchdowns, Moss is second all-time in NFL history to Jerry Rice. Moss’ 15,292 receiving yards rank fourth on the league’s career list.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.