Terence Newman was standing at his locker at Winter Park this morning when a pair of reporters approached him to ask him if he has been paying attention to the violent protests taking place in Charlotte, where, as of now, the Vikings were still scheduled to play the Panthers on Sunday.
“Of course I do. I pay attention to what’s going on everywhere,” he said. “What about you? What are your thoughts on what’s going on? I want to know what you think, from Kaepernick to the two guys that just got killed in the last two days. I want to know what you think about all of it.”
For the next few minutes, the veteran cornerback calmly but passionately engaged in a thoughtful exchange with the two reporters. This time, it was Newman, not the media, who was asking most of the questions.
First, Newman wanted to talk about 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has attempted to bring awareness to police brutality by opting not to stand for the national anthem. A number of players around the league have joined him in protest, but none of them were Vikings players.
“It’s bringing awareness,” Newman said. “Do you see how much attention this has gotten? It’s [about] the cause, but everyone is fixated on him kneeling and saying that he’s disrespecting the flag when he said personally that it has nothing to do with the flag. It’s raising awareness.”
Newman was asked if the public outcry would be the same if Patriots quarterback Tom Brady decided to kneel during the anthem.
“I doubt it,” Newman said. “Severely.”
Newman had more questions.
“What about the unarmed civilians being killed?” he asked, mentioning the local police shooting of Philando Castile this summer. “Do you think we have a problem? Do you think something needs to be done? Do you think there is definitely violence against black people from police?”
Moments later, Newman asked a reporter, “So as someone with a college education, what do you think of someone like me, walking down the street and having the chance of being stopped and possibly killed?”
Newman said he has never been profiled by police, but the 38-year-old added that “I don’t drive or go many places. I keep my butt at home.”
The cornerback expressed concern that the country is “moving toward another civil rights war — literally, black and white and Mexican and Asian, everybody’s going to be fighting against each other.”
Newman said that athletes and celebrities have influence when it comes to social issues, but not as much as the media, he believes.
“You guys come in here every day and ask us about [expletive] that doesn’t matter really and nobody asks about the situation. So what does that say? And I’m not being an ass. I’m just asking,” he said. “You guys have just as much influence as we do. Are you guys scared to say something? Are you guys scared to put your feelings out there?”
Newman was asking pointed questions but he was not antagonistic.
The conversation then turned to November’s presidential election.
“The whole election is kind of a lightning rod in itself as well,” he said. “It kind of touches on the same aspects, but definitely on a smaller scale. We’re talking about building a wall, trying to keep immigrants out.”
Newman was then interrupted by defensive end Brian Robison, who for two minutes asked Newman which teammate was the biggest “suck-up” to coach Mike Zimmer for a weekly video feature he does for the team’s website. Once Robison departed, Newman continued to vent.
“Why’s everybody scared about this topic?” he said to a PR staffer.
Newman, now seated, was finally ready to give his opinion on Kaepernick and other NFL players sitting or kneeling for the anthem.
“What is that going to do other than say ‘he’s protesting?’ How does that fix the issue? It doesn’t really fix the issue,” he said. “It brings awareness to the situation, yes. But I want to be more proactive and find a way to bridge the gap and bring the people together and fix the issue.
“As far as people being killed, it’s an issue. A cop shooting some other unarmed guy, some guy just walking down the street and killing another person, it’s everybody. Nobody’s immune it. It’s not just talking about police brutality and what not. I think it’s bigger than that.”
Does he truly believe that athletes can bring about significant change?
“I do,” Newman said. “But at the same time, it’s like… Guys who are in supremacist organizations or hate groups, how do you get those people to accept everybody? How do you do that?”
He added: “We’re in a way, way worse spot than we were in 2003. I can guarantee you that. And it seems like it takes a national tragedy to happen before people actually start to come together — the bombing at the [Boston] Marathon, 9/11. Things happen like that and people always want to be unified. And now we’re getting away from the unity.”
Vikings players, for the most part, have remained publicly silent about social issues and recent events, perhaps, as Newman said, because they are usually not asked for their opinions. But Newman said that privately he has talked about it all with teammates, regardless of race.
“This isn’t the 60s where we all have to sit at our own table. We’re pretty close in here and we’re all like brothers. There’s white guys talking about the situation. There’s black guys talking about the situation,” Newman said. “We’re all in it together, so for us, it’s easy.
“But when you [leave Winter Park], you’re just a somebody. You’re no different than anybody. But here, it’s our shelter. Here, we know we’re protected. Anywhere else, we’re no different from them. Who knows what violence is going to happen?”