NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — When you’re a NFL quarterback your voice stands out. Ryan Tannehill understands that, and with the national discussion about racism and social injustice at a fever pitch, the Titans quarterback has made his message clear.
Racism is wrong. Black lives matter. And a serious discussion needs to happen in order for there to be progress when it comes to policing and justice issues in America.
Tannehill’s quotes in interviews and social media posts have got a lot of people’s attention.
“It’s kind of like, ‘enough is enough’, right?” Tannehill said in a recent Zoom interview with local media. “It’s something that my eyes have been opened to the privilege I’ve lived with my whole life just because the color of my skin. The situations my friends, my teammates – guys I love – that they’ve been put in throughout their life purely because of the color of their skin, and things that they have to deal with that no man – no people – should have to deal with.”
Tannehill began his career in Miami as a teammate of outspoken wide receiver Kenny Stills. He says his eyes were opened to the prevalence of racism and the problem of police brutality through conversations with Stills and other teammates on the Dolphins.
After standing more in the background when Colin Kaepernick began his kneeling protest during the 2016 season, Tannehill believes now is the time for him to step up and stand with his black teammates as they look to make a difference on a national scale.
“I think the unfortunate thing about it is if you’re a white person you don’t have to deal with it on a daily basis and you’re not put in those situations, it’s easy to just go about your life and not recognize it,” Tannehill said. “With this push I think more and more people are having an awakening about the situation and how deep it really is, how many layers of injustice there are to it.”
The words of a white NFL quarterback is a particularly strong endorsement for the Black Lives Matter movement. Tannehill’s used to people disecting his words and actions after spending seven years in Miami as the franchise quarterback, and then taking over as the QB in Tennessee for Marcus Mariota midway through last season.
He’s not afraid of criticism, and he’s certainly not afraid of any heat he might take for standing up for what he believes in.
“I can’t really worry about that,” Tannehill said. “I just have to stay true to who I am, believe and support what I know is right, and if there’s people who push back and want to go the other direction then that’s on them. I’m going to fight for what I believe is right.”
Tannehill won over his Titans’ teammates by stepping into the lineup last fall and helping them turn around the season. In 13 games as the team’s starting quarterback, Tannehill led the Titans to nine wins. He was the NFL’s most efficient quarterback while leading Tennessee to its first appearance in the AFC Championship game in 17 years.
But his willingness to stand with his teammates now in their pursuit of equality may go further in the locker room than any touchdown pass he’s thrown.
“(It’s huge) to have that kind of courage to understand that you’re going to have some people that do not agree with what you’re saying, even if it is for a greater cause,” Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans said. “To have that type of courage and to be able to do those things, people are watching. Not only that, guys in the locker room are watching. So situations like that I feel (can) bring guys closer and closer together.”
Safety Kevin Byard says he viewed Tannehill as a leader from the day he was traded to Tennessee, and says he’s always gotten along with the 31 year old QB and his family. But to see him stand up alongside his teammates further cemented Tannehill’s role as a leader in the locker room.
“The fact he’s speaking and using his voice to uplift others, black, white or indifferent, whatever, it speaks volumes for his character,” Byard said.
For Titans’ players, ultimately, it’s about starting a conversation that leads to public awareness about systemic national problems. The next step is for those discussions to lead to action that can fix the issues.
It’s been a mission for many players for some time now, and it’s getting a big boost from one of the most recognizable players on the team.
“Some really good conversation going on right now,” Tannehill said. “I think the progress are country is making right now is heading in the right direction slowly, but there’s still a long, long way to go."