BOSTON (CBS) — It has become abundantly clear that despite the efforts of the good people out there, racism is still prevalent throughout the United States. The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer during his arrest is just the latest example of systemic racism in the country, and has sparked another movement against it.
Unfortunately, racism is everywhere, and that includes NFL locker rooms. Though they consist of men from every walk of life, racism still rears its ugly head in that setting.
Former Patriots tight end Ben Watson, who also spent time with the Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens during his 16-year NFL career, shared his experiences with WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton in a wide-ranging interview earlier this week. Watson said he had plenty of racist teammates during his playing days, though not all of them were as obvious as one would think.
“Racism is, it’s how we frame racism. It’s easy to say the KKK and people who say the N-word, that’s easy to see. But that’s not the issue,” Watson explained. “The real problem is the one who is in his living room with his kids watching a show or something in the news, and he’s saying things that when I’m talking to the kid, who is grown now, they say, ‘yeah, my father used to say this, that and the other.’ It’s not necessarily a teammate I see who tells me he’s racist – that’s not happening. But of course, we encounter racists every day.
“My teammates are people,” he continued. “There are racists in there, there are sexists in there. You name the vice, and we’re people. Same thing at your job. So yes, I have had racists on my team.”
Watson explained how he handled such teamamtes. He said sometimes players didn’t realize their beliefs or actions were racist.
“For the guy who was the overt racist, they usually get handled before they get to me,” he said with a laugh. “But a lot of it is understated. A lot of it is covered and a lot of it is in the small words that are said and not said when certain events are happening. A lot of it, honestly, is in the assumption of certain players and certain backgrounds. Certain terms we use in football are usually associated with black players and white players. We may think nothing of it, but that in and of itself, is proof of, really, the racism that is embedded into our culture.
“I’ll keep saying there is a larger picture that ‘this guy is a racist.’ I don’t know for sure if you’re a racist or for sure that you’re not a racist. All I can judge is what you say and what you do,” he added. “But I do know that our culture is one that has racism embedded in it.”
Watson said education is the most important factor in solving the country’s racism problems.
“For many of us, we weren’t taught a lot of these issues growing up in school. It’s amazing what we brush over. We may have a Black History Month every February and you may learn about the same personalities, as important as they are. But you won’t learn about red-lining or learn about the home loans that veterans received who were white, and the fact blacks didn’t receive those even though they fought for the country and the ramifications down the line. We don’t learn about policing and the way it is done in certain neighborhoods. We don’t even learn that riots happened a lot when there was integration, and even before that when black people moved into white neighborhoods and they were breaking bottles and burning everything up,” he said. “There is a lot of history we don’t know, and I’m talking to myself as well. So if you really care, we need to educate ourselves, and that has to take our personal intention to do so because it’s not going to be handed to us. Then we can have a context by which to view everything else going around; we can seek truth.”
Catch more of Steve Burton’s chat with Ben Watson coming up Sunday night on WBZ-TV’s Sports Final and Sports Final OT.