Former Phillies stars Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard sat down this week for a wide-ranging discussion about race in baseball and in America.
The talk, hosted by The Athletic, comes amid nationwide protests speaking out about institutional racism in the United States and in its police system after last week's killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed in Minneapolis last Monday night by a police officer in an incident caught on camera. The officer kneeled on his neck for an extended period of time while Floyd was handcuffed.
Rollins and Howard both discussed the frustration, anger, and sadness they felt from watching the widely-shared video of Floyd's death:
ROLLINS: [...] In the beginning, it was more shock. It was like, 'This dude, he really just sat there on his neck.' And then, the next day, you think about it, I remember I was picking up some food, and like Torii, I just started crying. Just angry. What do you do? This man has no remorse. There was not one second it appeared he considered (stopping). It was kind of like, 'I hear you, but I’m not going to do it. I don’t want to. I don’t have to do it. I’m protected by the badge. If he dies, he dies.' That was his attitude.
And that’s the part that really, really gets to you. How many other people, whether behind the badge or just in life, literally have the same feeling, think the same way? That if this person dies because I’m white and he’s black, and he didn’t listen to what I said, then I’m going to do what I want with him until I get his compliance? And if he dies, he dies.
HOWARD: It’s kind of like what Jimmy said: This dude was just sitting on his neck. But what got me was, he’s telling you he can’t breathe. You haven’t learned from the past in the sense of what happened in Ferguson and other cities? This man is telling you. He’s on the ground. He’s handcuffed. You’ve got four or five different police officers right there. There’s no need for that. My man started crying out for his mother. At what point do you think this dude is a threat, when he’s calling for his mom?
Howard then went on to recount a time he was pulled over by police in Philadelphia late at night, in what he believes was 2007 or 2008, without being provided a clear reason from a police officer.
HOWARD: Everybody knows what the police-car lights look like. I’m like, 'OK, let me act right because this cop is right behind me. I’m going to try and let this dude pass.' We pull up to the same light. He pulls up next to me. I’m going left. He’s going right. The light turns green, boom, my signal is on, I’m doing everything proper. I make my left turn. He sits there at the light. Two seconds later, boom, he makes the left and follows me. Pulls me over and asks for a license, registration, the whole nine yards.
I said, 'Officer, can you tell me what I was doing?' He said, 'Well, I ran your plates and nothing came back.' I was like, 'Isn’t that a good thing? I didn’t speed, didn’t run any lights. I wasn’t doing anything crazy, but you felt the need to pull me over.' Then another police officer pulled up, a black police officer. He went over to the dude and said, 'You know who that is?' He came over and talked to me, the dude wound up leaving.
I said, 'Look, man, if I’m breaking a law, I don’t care who I am, what I do, that don’t matter. If I’m running a light or not signaling and you pull me over, that’s fine. But when he tells me he pulled me over because he ran my tag and nothing came back what am I supposed to do?' The black officer said, 'Yeah, that dude has done that a few times.' He ended up getting reprimanded by his superiors. But when you have people like that working in that capacity, what can you do?
The whole conversation, which also includes former Phillie Doug Glanville and other former MLB players, is extremely important reading, and well worth your time.
It's important to note the differences in Howard's experience and that of former Flyers winger Todd Fedoruk, who noted in 2015 that Philadelphia police officers were known to give hockey players, an overwhelmingly white group of athletes, free passes on dangerous harmful behavior, like driving drunk.
Rollins and Howard are the latest Philadelphia athletes to publicly voice their frustrations with instituional racism and abuse of power by police officers.
In the last week, Carson Wentz, Zach Ertz, Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, Bryce Harper, Jason Kelce, and dozens of other local athletes have spoken up in support of the black community, and against racism.
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