Former NFL player and current Fox Sports 1 analyst Ephraim Salaam’s parents were both born in the 1940s and grew up in the South. They were active participants in the Civil Rights movement. Marches, sit-ins – you name it.
“I grew up aware of the things that have happened in this country to people of color, how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go,” Salaam said on CBS Sports Radio’s Reiter Than You. “I think what happened in Virginia really sheds a light on how far this country really has to go in terms of racial equality.”
Violence broke out between white nationalists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend. The clash reached its boiling point when a 20-year-old plowed into a group of counter-protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather D. Heyer.
Salaam believes that the 2016 presidential election led to the events in Charlottesville.
“When the Republican candidate started to really resonate with those people and say things and not condemn some of their actions, it’s no surprise to me seeing what we saw in Virginia this weekend,” said Salaam, who played in the NFL from 1998 to 2010. “The first thing people love to say is, ‘Well, our president is Donald Trump, and we have a voice again.’ I think that’s extremely dangerous – not only to the minorities in these country, but to all of us as Americans. . . .You’re watching it, and it’s surreal. I feel ashamed because we’re at a time where things have progressed along racial accords in this country from where they were.”
And yet, it appears we have a long way to go.
“Let’s be frank and let’s be real,” Salaam said. “Hatred, bigotry, racism, you’re not born with that. That is a taught and a learned emotion and a behavior. You go to any preschool in the country, you watch kids of all races, colors, religions (and) nationalities playing together. They don’t care. They don’t care at all. And the fact that you have to take the time as an adult to teach someone to hate – hate so much that you would get in a car and drive through people in a protest – that’s the crazy part. The part that really bothers me is that we’re not calling it is. It’s domestic terrorism. That was a terrorist attack on protestors this weekend.”
Salaam, 41, opened up about his experiences being black in America, even recounting some of his run-ins with police.
“Could you imagine living in a world where no matter what your job was, no matter what you did, that you would always be a suspect?” Salaam asked. “Do you know how many times I had an incident at San Diego State from the campus police? Where I had guns drawn on me? Thrown down some stairs in the cafeteria? And five minutes later, the officer laughs and says, ‘I guess this was a case of mistaken identity.’ This was on campus. There’s a term that we use called ‘fit the description.’ I fit the description of every African-American who committed a crime – although I’m 6-8, 275 pounds. There’s not a lot of me’s walking around committing crimes. But with me being this big, the level of intimidation that I have, that’s why I have the personality I have. I have that personality because I have to be unalarming to people.”
Salaam tries to be friendly and outgoing. He is encouraged by Michael Bennett and Marshawn Lynch carrying Colin Kapernick’s protest torch, for he believes that high-profile athletes can make a difference in society.
“I hope so,” he said. “I truly hope so. Because when people of color who are prominent start to make waves, then people pay attention. Because hey, you’re making millions of dollars, you’re playing a sport, you have all of this (success) – why are you worried about it? Because we’re still black men in America. It doesn’t matter how many years I played in the NFL, how much money I made. If I get pulled over, I’m a black male to authorities. I’m a black male in society, so people are always on their guard.
“I love what the NBA does,” Salaam continued. “Their players have a voice, and there’s nothing the league can do about it. The NFL, it’s the shield. They don’t like people being outspoken. They don’t like any attention other than football being shown on the shield.”