After Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a shirt calling for justice for two black Ohioans recently killed by police onto the field before Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the head of Cleveland’s police union called him “pathetic” and demanded an apology.
But when Hawkins addressed the media on Monday, he didn’t apologize. Instead, he delivered an impassioned speech defending his decision to wear the shirt and explaining why it was so important for him to do so.
Hawkins, who added himself to a growing list of athletes who have worn shirts or spoken out on recent police killings of black men, started with his thoughts on justice and the idea that he should apologize to offended police officers:
“I was taught that justice is a right that every American should have. Also justice should be the goal of every American. I think that’s what makes this country. To me, justice means the innocent should be found innocent. It means that those who do wrong should get their due punishment. Ultimately, it means fair treatment. So a call for justice shouldn’t offend or disrespect anybody. A call for justice shouldn’t warrant an apology.
Hawkins said that the t-shirt was not a stance against all police officers, but “a stance against wrong individuals doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons to innocent people.”
“Those are the police officers who should be offended,” he said.
The most moving part of the speech, and the part where Hawkins became emotional, was when he discussed his primary reason for wearing the shirt: the thought of his 2-year-old son facing the same fate as John Crawford, the 22-year-old killed by police while playing with an air gun in an Ohio Walmart, or Tamir Rice, who was just 12 years old when police killed him for playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland-area park. Hawkins’ son became a darling of the sports internet earlier this season when the wide receiver posted an Instagram video in which he jokingly tossed his son out of the house for saying that his favorite players are wide receivers A.J. Green and Mohammed Sanu, Hawkins’ former teammates in Cincinnati.
“I’m not an activist, in any way, shape or form. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred I keep my opinions to myself on most matters. I worked extremely hard to build and keep my reputation especially here in Ohio, and by most accounts I’ve done a solid job of decently building a good name. Before I made the decision to wear the T-shirt, I understood I was putting that reputation in jeopardy to some of those people who wouldn’t necessarily agree with my perspective. I understood there was going to be backlash, and that scared me, honestly. But deep down I felt like it was the right thing to do. If I was to run away from what I felt in my soul was the right thing to do, that would make me a coward, and I can’t live with that. God wouldn’t be able to put me where I am today, as far as I’ve come in life, if I was a coward.
“As you well know, and it’s well documented, I have a 2-year-old little boy. The same 2-year-old little boy that everyone said was cute when I jokingly threw him out of the house earlier this year. That little boy is my entire world. And the number one reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality.
Watch the full speech, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
“It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law,” Jeff Follman, the president of the Police Patrolman Union in Cleveland, said after Hawkins wore the shirt. “They should stick to what they know best on the field. The Cleveland Police protect and serve the Browns stadium and the Browns organization owes us an apology.”
The idea that athletes are simple-minded jocks incapable of understanding social issues of the day was already demeaning and ridiculous enough before Hawkins delivered this speech Monday. But his words are important, if only because the speech is probably the most heartfelt explanation we’ve seen yet from an athlete about why they feel the need to stand up and speak out on issues like this. It’s plenty clear from the video that Hawkins won’t be apologizing for wearing the shirt, and that he put careful thought into his decision. Perhaps, even, he’s put more thought into the case than the Cleveland police, who reportedly still haven’t explained to Rice’s mother why they shot her son for playing with a toy gun in a park near his home.