It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall. After seeing his former University of Nevada, Reno teammate and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick protest police brutality by not standing for the national anthem during a preseason game, Marshall was moved to take a knee as well. Despite losing two endorsements, Marshall continues to press on to spread the word about police brutality and the killing of unarmed Black men.
In an exclusive chat, EBONY.com caught up with Marshall to talk about his decision to protest police brutality, why the phenomenon of athletes speaking up isn’t going away and why you won’t see every Black NFL player take a knee or join the protest.
EBONY.com: Growing up, did you ever have thoughts of using your celebrity at the professional level to be like a Muhammad Ali or a Jim Brown and speak out on social issues?
Brandon Marshall: Honestly, no. That wasn’t on my radar. I knew that what I always wanted to do was effect change in the youth. If I wasn’t playing football, I’d be a juvenile probation officer. My cousin used to be a probation officer and I saw how much time he’d spend with kids. I thought if we can save troubled youth, we can really make changes. I didn’t see myself addressing social issues like this until recently. I felt convicted.
EBONY.com: Before this became major news, were issues with Black people in the police a topic you all talked about in the locker room, but weren’t sure how to address publicly?
Marshall: We definitely did. A lot has happened this year and the whole thing with what Colin [Kaepernick] started ignited a flame. I think it’s just getting bigger.
EBONY.com: A lot of fans will throw out these theories and ideas about what would happen or what kind of change would be made if every Black NFL player refused to take the field until something changes. Is that something you all have heard about, and if so, can it realistically happen?
Marshall: Here’s the issue with that: I was talking to one of my teammates and he said he wanted to kneel with me but he doesn’t feel like he’s in a position with the team to kneel with me. He’s not up there as far as his standing and he doesn’t want to create a ruckus. There are different things like that. Some people don’t want to rock the boat and risk being cut. They don’t want to be seen as a nuisance. They say, “If I’m cut, I won’t be able to make a change at all.”
You want to talk about not taking the field? A lot of players don’t manage their money well. Some guys can’t afford to go on strike. Everyone is in a different place so its tough to get everybody on one accord.
EBONY.com: Were you aware of Colin’s position before it became national news?
Marshall: I didn’t know. When I saw it and saw him speak so eloquently and how passionate he was, it touched me. I started thinking about everything and it hit me: This is something I want to be involved in.
EBONY.com: Was there anything you saw or read that made your want to take a knee?
Marshall: I felt strongly about everything he spoke about in his first interview. He mentioned in California that you need more training to be a cosmetologist than to be a police officer. There’s oppression, still. What I’m finding out now is that people care more about a flag than about their fellow man. That’s killing me.
EBONY.com: Were you surprised about that?
Marshall: I shouldn’t have been but I was. I didn’t really know how deep it was. It’s kinda sad. I’ve had people say, “You should love this country.”
Look, I appreciate America for all the opportunities it’s afforded me. I try to live by the principles the Bible speaks on. Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s what we need to adopt to be a better country.
EBONY.com: After news of you taking a knee went national, you lost two endorsements. How’d you find out about that?
Marshall: I found out about both in the news. My PR people were trying to get ahold of me beforehand. I don’t regret or feel any type of way about losing those two endorsements. It didn’t make me want to stand up (for the anthem) at all. It is what it is.
EBONY.com: I saw that Russell Simmons reached out to you as well. How’d it to feel to know that in losing endorsements you gained some supporters?
Marshall: It all comes around full circle. For him to reach out and want to support me, I thought it was amazing. It made me understand that I’m doing the right thing.
EBONY.com: A lot of the conversation in the sports circles has been around you all standing or not standing for the national anthem. Are you worried that the substance and the issues behind the protest are getting lost in the conversation?
Marshall: Absolutely. I’m definitely afraid of that. It’s Kinda sad that people don’t want to address the real issue. They want to talk about players kneeling but don’t want to talk about why. In lieu of the Terence Crutcher shooting, I hope it’ll make people to open their eyes.
EBONY.com: For people who need to hear this, I want to give you an opportunity to make it plain. What are the reasons for the protest?
Marshall: A lot of it is police brutality. This whole thing with shooting and killing unarmed Black individuals. It’s sad to me. You can kill Terence Crutcher for having a broken down car with his hands in the air, but a bomber in New York gets taken away in handcuffs? The bomber is really a threat to society, but they deem us as threats. I don’t understand. With the Crutcher shooting, you had an officer say he looks like a bad dude. Why does he look like a bad dude? Is it the color of his skin?
That’s why. If you won’t say that [it’s a problem], I think you may be naïve. I’m against discrimination in all forms. There’s more than just racism. There’s ageism and sexism as well.
EBONY.com: Does the vitriol from industry veterans bother you in the midst of silence on other issues that effect the league like domestic violence?
Marshall: Yes. My mother and I are big domestic violence advocates. My mother is a survivor. I think that’s a huge thing.
EBONY.com: You went public with a story about an incident with the Miami Police Department. Were you surprised at some of the skepticism you received? In much the same way we’ve seen people talk question Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, there are people asking what you did to provoke the police?
Marshall: People who aren’t minorities don’t know what its like to be one. Of course they’ll say, “He must’ve done something,” because they’re taught to believe that if you’re targeted by the police that you’ve done something.
That’s not always the case. They don’t believe that because they have blinders on. They haven’t lived the reality we’ve lived. People have tried to find a police report but of course there isn’t one. If they let me go and told me to keep it on the hush, why would there be a report? That’s what happened. People can believe it or not.
EBONY.com: You used your voice to set up a meeting with Denver Police Chief Robert White, how’d that go?
Marshall: It was amazing. He voiced his opinion on what i’m doing and didn’t bash it at all. He gave me some insight on what it was like to be a police officer and I asked him some questions about how some of us feel and why we feel like we’re targeted. It was a good meeting and he invited me to do the simulator they have that involves cops making split second decisions.
EBONY.com: Did you get a chance to ask the chief if there’s anything that prevents the “good cops” from speaking up?
Marshall: I didn’t but we got lost in the conversation. That’s a big issue. I understand that you’re supposed to protect a fellow officer, but when injustice is happening, it’s on them to speak up as well.
EBONY.com: Walking away from that, do you feel there might be some ways to improve relations between the police and the Black community?
Marshall: It has to start somewhere. I thought the chief had some good thoughts about training. He said some of the killings might be legally justified, but he asks his officers if shooting a man or woman is necessary? And also not to just look at people as suspects. But to look at people as sons or fathers and people with families.
EBONY.com: With these two recent police murders murders that have made headlines this week, has anyone apologized to you or come up to you to say they understand where you all are coming from?
Marshall: I haven’t had anyone apologize, but people have said they understand where we’re coming from and offer their support.
EBONY.com: What would you say to people who criticize athletes for not doing enough, or thinking this is a temporary issue that will go away?
Marshall: I hope they realize this isn’t going away. Sometimes they want us to be quiet and just play or be quiet and entertain. This is a real life issue. We have voices and we’re going to use them. We started this conversation and I hope there will be some change.
EBONY.com: What kind of changes do you want to see?
Marshall: I want us to treat our fellow man better. I think caring more about flags than people is an issue. I’d like to see that change.
As far as police go, if officers are really that scared or timid [on the streets], maybe they shouldn’t be police officers. Their job is to protect and serve and they’re supposed to be the bravest of the brave. Like the officer who shot Terence Crutcher. If you’re that scared, why do you have a badge? I don’t understand that. Maybe the standards should be higher to be an officer. People will say there area high standards, but clearly they’re not high enough.
I also want to make this point: I know there are officers who do good. There are a whole lot. But there are too many of these killings. You don’t have to kill these individuals, especially when they’re unarmed.