Houston Texans coach and general manager Bill O’Brien spoke Wednesday morning with passion and great empathy about the George Floyd tragedy that has gripped our nation. He also said he understands why players kneel during the playing of the national anthem.
O’Brien said he has been paying particular attention in recent days as the nation deals with the continued police brutality toward Black men in this country. Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has all but been banned from the NFL because he chose to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem to bring light to the brutality and murders Black men and women have suffered at the hands of police officers in America.
Other players have taken to taking a knee like Eric Reid and Texans receiver Kenny Stills but not without much criticism.
“President Obama said the protests represent a genuine legit (protest) against the police practices in the broader criminal justice system in the U.S.,” O’Brien said. “This is one of the reasons why Kenny Stills takes a knee. President Bush spoke yesterday and asked America to examine our failures. Part of being a leader is being able to admit your mistakes. He said it is time for us to listen and that many doubt the justice of our country, and with good reason.”
Without naming names, O’Brien seemed to take aim at current President Donald Trump, who has exhibited hostility toward protestors across the country and overall has been criticized for his lack of leadership during this critical time.
“I’ve read a lot this week and I’ve read what many people have said and I don’t want to wade too much into the political realm but I will a little bit to be honest with you,” O’Brien said. “Like I’ve said, I’ve read coach Brian Flores’ statement about 50 times, I’ve read coach Popovich’s comments, I’ve read the comments of President Bush, true leaders, leaders that have empathy, leaders that have an understanding of what leadership is all about.”
O’Brien says he didn’t just come to this understanding during this crisis, but that his compassion and empathy comes from years of friendships with people from other racial backgrounds and from being a head coach of men from diverse heritages.
“In my role as head coach at Penn State and Houston I’ve been fortunate to be a head coach. I don’t take that for granted. I’ve had the privilege of being around some unbelievable players and coaches, I’ve learned a great deal from all of them,” O’Brien said.
“As it relates to the Texans …. I’ve learned a lot from Deshaun Watson when he talks about growing up in Gainesville and why he has the area code of Gainesville tattooed on his arm. I’ve learned a lot this last year talking with Kenny Stills about why he takes a knee. I think we all know why Kenny takes a knee, why Eric Reid takes a knee. I think that one of the things I try to do is I try to coach good football, and I try to listen to the players and coaches and their life stories.”
New Texans safety and Houston native Michael Thomas was listening in when O’Brien was speaking and seemed to genuinely appreciate that his coach gets it. Thomas played for the Miami Dolphins from 2013-2017 and was teammates with Stills when he began taking a knee.
“To hear him say that, looking back at 2016, 2017 in Miami, to hear a head coach say that … you don’t know how much that means,” Thomas said. “I just want to say personally, man thank you. You hit on all of the points and it means a lot. Being an African American male in this country that means a lot.”
O’Brien also talked about George Floyd, whose killing last week at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis who knelt on his neck for over eight minutes sparked this national outrage, and how Floyd’s family have handed his senseless death. O’Brien commended them.
“Watching his family over the last three or four days and how just passionate and just how unbelievably strong they have been, whether it’s here in Houston or whether it’s when they went to pray where he was murdered in Minneapolis, they have just been a great example for this country.
“The Floyd family has just been an unbelievable example for this country, topped off yesterday by 60,000 people at Discovery Green in Downtown Houston. I think that is what Houston is all about. Houston comes together, Houston unites and Houston is uniting around the Floyd family. I think a lot of that has to do with the example of the Floyd family. So, our hearts go out to that family. Our hearts go out to the Black community in this country… especially in this city. We stand by you and we are ready to do our part in this community.”
O’Brien, speaking not just for himself but the Texans and the McNair family, said they are here for the African-American community and are ready to do what they can to help things improve.
“The McNairs are heartbroken over the murder of George Floyd and they are committed to doing whatever it takes to promote social justice in our city,” O’Brien said. “They are committed to it.”
O’Brien acknowledged that just making a statement is far from enough. But he said speaking out against great injustices is an important start to solving a massive problem this country faces.
“As a white head football coach in the National Football League it’s important to speak out,” O’Brien said. “Statements can’t really take the pain away. I understand that. But it’s so much deeper. It’s 400 years ago it was slavery, it’s segregation, it’s police brutality, it’s not equal opportunities. It’s so much deeper. It’s deeper.
“We have to stand with the Black community, we have to heed the call to action and challenge each other to live out the change that we want. I’m emotional, I’m sad.”
The Texans will not hold virtual meetings planned on June 9, the day of Floyd’s funeral, so players can attend if they are able.
Follow Terrane Harris on Twitter @terranceharris