They happen almost every game now — a kneeling protest, a raised fist or some manner of display intended to elevate awareness of the inequities and racial bias in America.
Athletes, more than ever, are using their unique platform to spotlight the social issues dividing the country.
They have lifted uncomfortable but overdue conversations to the surface. It hasn’t been without pain and controversy. Growth rarely is.
In the last few weeks, Brandon Williams has proudly stood arm-in-arm with his Seahawks teammates during the national anthem, linked in a chain of football brothers trying to make a statement about unity and common purpose.
More than any other Seahawks player, the 28-year-old tight end understands the pain on all sides of the issues that have sparked such distrust and tragic human destruction.
As a man of color growing up in south Chicago, Williams has faced racial profiling and had friends kill or be killed with weapons.
And at the same time, he grew up like any son of a police officer, worried to his core over the well-being of his father, Kim Williams, who has policed one of the nation’s most violent areas for nearly 30 years.
Kim Williams, of the Chicago Police Department’s District 2, has done his job in such a way that it inspired Brandon to want to get into law enforcement when he’s finished with football.
“It’s tough; I understand both sides of it,” Brandon Williams said. “As a person who was pursuing a career in law enforcement and has family in law enforcement, I definitely understand where some of the police come from, but as a person experiencing profiling and racism, I can understand those dangers, too.”
You’ve seen the stories all too frequently, the statistics growing more grim by the week — deaths of unarmed blacks in horrifying numbers, countered by violence directed at that vast majority of good cops.
With each instance, the safe middle ground further erodes into a chasm.
“The more things that happen, the more scared the police get, as well,” Williams said. “Now they’re on edge and the public is on edge and they’ve all had enough. Where it stands now, everybody is thinking, ‘I don’t know what this person is capable of,’ and ‘Will this person try to take my life?’ ”
Williams has taken part in some of the Seahawks discussions over how they want to voice their position. He appreciates the show of unity rather than a blanket protest of police policies.
Williams is one of the all-time great stories of persistence. He was told at the University of Oregon that a spinal problem mandated his retirement from football.
While trying to qualify for the Portland Police Department, he picked up jobs with private security firms. Nagged by the lack of closure with the game, Williams came to a regional combine at the VMAC in Renton in March 2013, and made such an impression that teams brought him in for physicals.
When new examinations of his back allowed him to be cleared to play, he ended up with Carolina for most of three seasons, and then spent part of 2015 with Miami. The Hawks signed him as a free agent, and he’s been a contributor as a blocking tight end and special teams player.
When football is over, he’ll go back to law enforcement. How else could he have a bigger influence in people’s lives?
“That (Chicago) district is a tough place, and (dad) dealt with a lot,” Williams said. “He makes a difference in people’s lives and gives people a positive outlook on police officers. There’s a lot of negativity about the police, especially in the lower-income areas. I want to be like my dad, and be a positive influence on people.”
The Seahawks players’ approach to social issues, Williams said, is a function of “everybody wanting to see change.”
“I like it. It’s everybody coming together and saying that we’re all equal,” he said. “All that we’re doing, and all that we stand for is unity, and that’s what it will take to make a change.”