Ray Lewis, I thought we already went down this road. In 2016, you posted an outlandish Facebook video criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement for their efforts to make substantive changes in the lives of people of color. Now you've offered up misguided comments about Colin Kaepernick and his admirable decision to stage peaceful civil rights protests despite backlash from executives in the National Football League, some fans — and now you.
In a Twitter video posted this month, you called Mr. Kaepernick's efforts "nonsense" and told him to "get back on the football field and let [his] play speak for itself."
Mr. Lewis, just because you're black and the best linebacker of all time doesn't mean that you know what you're talking about when it comes to social justice in America. It's a very complicated issue. It's not like playing football, and a loud, rowdy pep talk won't suffice. I'm struggling to understand how you could be so critical of a person like Mr. Kaepernick who wants to speak out against the systemic racism and injustice in America. He has donated thousands of dollars of his own money to black communities — on his way to meeting a pledge to donate $1 million — and is certainly not some ineffectual grandstander who has chosen this issue to help advance his career (because it absolutely hasn't).
Do you realize that if it hadn't been for people who stood up for injustice in the past (Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, etc.), the life you enjoy today probably would not exist? If it weren't for people like Mr. Kaepernick who decided to speak out for what is right, despite the consequences to their own lives, where would America be today?
As someone who has been affected by the criminal justice system, I find it astonishing that you would not immediately throw your support behind advocates like Mr. Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter, who have brought national attention to how the system has negatively impacted the lives of so many. Thank God for the cell phone camera and social media and their combined effect on cases like that of Philando Castile, who was slaughtered on video in 2016 by a police officer in Minnesota. That technology has provided valuable evidence on countless occasions — evidence that should force the American public to acknowledge how police brutality is counterproductive to justice and race relations. And yet we're still doubted, and we're still receiving resistance from people like you — of all people! I don't think you realize how detrimental it is to the struggle to hear statements like that or how disheartening it is to people who only want to make things better.
Mr. Lewis, what would you like to see happen? For things to just get better on their own? This situation is bigger than someone just refusing to stand up for the national anthem. This thing is about the pain that runs deep and has destroyed the lives of black men, women and children across the United States for decades. The last thing that we need now is somebody telling activists, advocates and courageous people to sit down and be quiet, especially coming from another a black man who professes to be a leader in the black community.
The last thing the black single mother in Baltimore needs, the last thing the struggling college student at Morgan State University needs, the last thing the young teenager who just lost a father to gunfire needs is to be told not speak out about an injustice. The "I am black, I am rich, and my momma was poor, so let me show you how to do this" approach just doesn't work for us.
If you really want to get into this fight, my suggestion to you is that you fully educate yourself on the issues, then meet with the people who engage in the work every day. Meet with the organizations who are in the trenches, and sit down with Colin Kaepernick. Then ask yourself: Why does Colin Kapernick feel the need to protest? Why would so many people choose to organize, rally and speak out about this issue? It's not cut and dried. Even our policymakers and politicians have a tough time wrapping their arms around this real problem, and a scolding from you is not helping anything. We need courageous people willing to take a stand. We need more Colin Kaepernicks speaking out. And fewer Ray Lewises.
Kevin Shird is author of the memoir "Lessons of Redemption" and a youth advocate. His email is email@example.com.