BOSTON (CBS) — After fielding questions about his brief time in New England and his relationship with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, Patriots defensive end Chris Long addressed the NFL’s very public issues surrounding San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit, then kneel, during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality against African-Americans. Kaepernick’s actions have inspired other players around the league to make similar gestures, including the Patriots’ Devin McCourty and Martellus Bennett.
Long joined ESPN’s Russillo & Kanell and spoke at length about the story. While apprehensive about reporters taking a small part of his answer being extracted and taken out of context, he decided to express his feelings on the matter as directly and thoroughly as possible. In the interest of getting the complete context, here’s his full first answer:
“I’ll make it pretty clear: I support my peers in exercising their right to protest. This is a wonderful country, and I think everyone agrees on that, but there are things in our country that can improve. I don’t think that by acknowledging as a white male that America isn’t the same for me, maybe, as it is for everybody, the same great place, that we’re complicit in the problem or that we’re saying America isn’t a great place. If we’re saying there are incidents of oppression in this country, systematically or individually in this country, I don’t think saying, ‘Well, in country X, Y or Z it’s 10 times worse’ is making things any better. I think that may be true, but why can’t we improve? I play in a league that’s 70 percent black and my peers, guys I come to work with, guys I respect who are very socially aware and are intellectual guys, if they identify something that they think is worth putting their reputations on the line, creating controversy, I’m going to listen to those guys.
“And I respect the anthem. I would never kneel for it. We all come from different walks of life and think differently about the anthem and the flag and what that means. But I think you can respect and find a lot of truth in what these guys are talking about, and not kneel. Those aren’t mutually exclusive ideas. … Listen, it’s been complicated. It’s brought out a lot of what we as fans and players think about the anthem; a lot of strong feelings on both sides.
“But I think we can all agree we love our vets. We love the vast majority of officers of law enforcement. But they are human beings too and there are isolated incidents that need to be better and I think all guys are saying is ‘Listen, most people might be great cops, great people that protect our communities, but when there are injustices, let’s find justice for those situations.’ … I respect my peers, I respect Colin. Colin has really put his reputation on the line. He’s taken a beating. He’s also had support. I don’t think he did it for publicity. … And listen, I’m just going to listen to my peers because I respect those guys, and I can’t put myself in their shoes.”
Long was asked a follow-up about the Patriots’ possible plans to address the anthem as an organization. He supported McCourty and Bennett’s right to raise their fists after the conclusion of the anthem.
“There are differing opinions about the details of how you want to do it, but at the end of the day I’m proud of my teammates for standing up for what they believe in,” Long said.
Long’s extended response to the hot-button issue is un-Patriot-like for a team coached by Bill Belichick, who declined to speak about the National Anthem in any way when asked about it. But he gave a thoughtful, detailed, balanced, and insightful answer, nonetheless.