July 02, 2020

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Kevin Byard: Sports can help teach unity and harmony

Kevin Byard: Sports can help teach unity and harmony

Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard said that sports in general and the NFL in particular can be a great teacher for all people during the tumultuous times since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer.
Byard said that a football locker room is about coming together for a common goal, and that that can be something people in all walks of line and learn from and emulate as the nation works to improve race relations and heal from the divisiveness of the past.
“I think that’s the beauty of sports right there. I’ve never met a guy from my locker room that I felt like hated me because of the color of my skin or anything like that. That’s the beauty of the NFL. Right now, we have 90 guys on the team, or close to 90. We all come from different walks of life,” Byard said in Zoom conference call on Wednesday. “Everybody comes from a different part of the country, some people come from different parts of the world. I just feel like the beauty of it is the simple fact that we can all come together no matter our differences, things like that, to try to accomplish a common goal and work together within that. Honestly, I feel like the country can take a great lesson from sports and the unity of guys, and people coming from all different shades and colors and different things like that, and not really caring about it.
“When one guy scores a touchdown, the whole team is celebrating, it doesn’t matter what he looks like. I think that’s the beauty of sports and that’s kind of why I feel like especially the game of football is such a game of life and it teaches you so much, and I’ve appreciated all the lessons that I’ve learned just by playing ball, and all the people I’ve met and all the times I’ve experienced.”
Byard said he attended an all-black high school and realized when he got to college at Middle Tennessee that people come from all different backgrounds and experiences. He said he appreciates those who will never know what it is like growing up as a black person in America working to empathize with things he and African Americans have faced.
“Honestly, since I’ve been in the NFL, and not even just the NFL, I went to an all-black high school, so by me coming to Middle Tennessee and me coming to the NFL, working in these different work environments with all types of different people, different races, I began to realize that everybody doesn’t necessarily know or have the experience growing up as a black person in America,” Byard said. “A lot of times you can’t expect everybody to understand that. For me personally, for (Mike) Vrabel and a lot of guys around the world that would sit there and say, ‘I haven’t experienced the black experience,’ or ‘I don’t know what it feels like for the kinds of struggles you’ve been through, but I’m trying to understand, I’m listening and I’m trying to show empathy.’ Honestly, that’s all I can really ask for from anybody. Everybody’s experience is different. I’ve met people from all different races that were some of the best people I’ve ever met. Honestly, all the conversation that we’ve had as a team, that I’ve had with a bunch of different people, it’s all about education. I would just say that for anybody that’s trying to understand what black people are going through or trying to figure out what they can do in this situation is just have empathy. Have empathy as human beings to understand that everybody goes through struggles, not just black people, everybody goes through struggles. Just understand to be more empathetic and be more humane.”
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was also on a conference call, is one of those players that Byard said has stepped up in the wake of the Floyd tragedy.
“It’s kind of like enough is enough, right? It’s something that my eyes have been opened to, the privilege I’ve lived with my whole life just because of the color of my skin. The situations my friends, my teammates, guys that I love, that they’ve been put in throughout their life purely because of the color of their skin, things they have to deal with which no man, no people should have to deal with, hearing stories,” Tannehill said. “I think when this first came around in 2016, I was on a team with Kenny Stills who was able to educate me about a lot of it. I’m really thankful for a lot of the conversations that we’ve had along the way. Just such an issue that affects millions of people that if you don’t – I think the unfortunate thing about it is, if you’re a white person you don’t have to deal with it on a daily basis and you’re not put in those situations.
“It’s easy to just go about your life and not recognize it and not realize how big of a deal it is, how many people it affects on a daily basis. I think with this push, I think more and more people are having an awakening to the reality of the situation and how deep it really is, how many layers of injustice there are to it with the court system, and policing, and just on a day-to-day basis. Like I said, there’s so many layers to it. I think that just this push was kind of like the straw that broke the camel’s back, right? It’s been happening for far too long and finally got to the point where enough is enough.”
For Byard, he sees Tannehill beyond just that, saying he had respect for the type of person the quarterback is from their first meeting.
“I respect Ryan to the fullest. I’ve always respected him since I first met him. That’s one thing about me, I don’t look at guys as race and all this stuff. Ryan and his family, his wife, has treated my family with nothing but love and I respect him just for the man he is,” Byard said. “The fact that he’s speaking and using his voice to uplift others, black, white, or different, whatever, it speaks volumes for his character. I will always treat him based upon that. I always try to treat everybody with love and try not to hate anybody. Ryan Tannehill, he’s a great guy. I always feel comfortable around him and I feel like the entire team respects him in that way as well.”
In terms of what he might do to raise awareness like others have done by kneeling for the anthem, Byard said he has not thought about it, but said that whatever gesture is done will likely be through the team and will show team unification.
“Honestly, I really haven’t given any thought to it. I know a few years back when it was a question of teams kneeling, different things like that, I know us as a team, the Titans, we came together and we made a decision. I think we played Seattle that game and both teams decided not to come out. But it’s something I haven’t thought about at all,” he said. “I honestly feel like the fact that the conversation is being shifted a little bit toward how we’re going to protest and different things like that, it just shifts the conversation from what the issue (is) and the things we really need to focus on, which is the racial injustice and different things like that. No, honestly, I haven’t given any thought to it. I’m sure that when the time comes, us as a team, we’ll make a decision as a team.”

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