James White Describes How the Patriots will Battle Racism in America and Shares His Unique Perspective on Recent Events
Q: With the events happening in the country right now, I saw the social media post you made also. What do you think of the NFL’s overall response to racism in America these last couple weeks and your fellow players’ response? It seems like there’s been more speaking out the last couple weeks.
JW: Yeah, I think everybody’s trying to speak out a little bit more, a lot more people getting more comfortable, letting everybody know how they feel. And I think that’s important and I know some people might not understand that racism and things of that nature still exist, but it does. The color of your skin unfortunately comes with different things in America. Just trying to raise people’s awareness, trying to make changes and it’s sad that things like the George Floyd situation have been going on year after year and time after time. People have to be held accountable for things like that. Some laws need to be changed and peoples’ actions need to be changed but it all starts with a conversation. All these people speaking up is only going to help.
Q: George Floyd’s recent death shined a light on what Colin Kaepernick was trying to protest. Those protests subsided a lot last season but in light of what Roger Goodell said about supporting peaceful protests, do you think those demonstrations by players will be picked up this season and do you plan to demonstrate in any way?
JW: I’m sure we will figure something out as a team. I’m not exactly sure what that will be but I’m sure guys will peacefully protest in some type of form or fashion. Colin Kaepernick was trying to raise awareness for situations like these a while back and people have continued to raise awareness about it but now the world is seeing how a bunch of people feel and I think everybody’s trying to understand and get a better grasp of everything so things can change in a positive manner.
Q: Devin McCourty said that the team meetings recently have been a little bit strange to put football on the back burner, so to speak. How strange is it to change the focus when the focus is usually only on football?
JW: It’s been a little different, with everything being virtual and not being at OTA’s, mini-camp and things of that nature. But, the meetings were effective. Guys learn. Coaches are challenging us the best that they could to tap in and learn new information. I think everybody made the most of the situation that was put in front of us. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world, but during that time with football, everybody was locked in and we spoke on situations that were going on in the world as a team so everybody has a better understanding of the problem.
Q: Your father works in law enforcement. How has that shaped your outlook with what has been going on? You are able to see it from both angles.
JW: I see the perspective but at the same time, my dad taught always me, even though he is a cop, things of that nature, in his uniform job, a black man in society, those things that happened to George Floyd can happen to me, can happen to my dad, can happen to any person of color in this world. It doesn’t matter how much money you make or what job you have, if somebody feels the need, that they are more important or that they have more power than you and try to make a statement or whatever they’re doing, they can take somebody’s life. My dad always made me aware of what I should do when I get pulled over and things of that nature and how to treat cops. I see both sides and I’ve heard a lot of stories from my dad from that perspective, so it helped shape me growing up.
Q: What do you remember about the NFL player protests from 2017 and how difficult of a situation was it for you and your teammates to do at the time because of how polarizing it was back then?
JW: Peoples’ awareness wasn’t as heightened back then. I think a couple of our teammates, we just wanted to stand with Kap [Colin Kaepernick]. We understood what he was trying to protest and being black people in America, we understood exactly what he was talking about. It was difficult at the time. Some people might not have understood and some people just didn’t want to understand. Like I said, with everything going on in the world today, I think it’s important for people to educate themselves, do a little research and just find ways to understand how America works.
Q: There has been a lot of discussion over the last couple weeks that this feels different than it ever has before. Do you feel it’s been different and why it latched on this time as opposed to a few years ago?
JW: I think it’s just the amount of people that are speaking out. When Kap first did it as a protest, some people didn’t have to courage or whatever it might have been to speak out or talk about it. The NBA made their stance on it and everything but I think a lot of guys in the NFL were kind of shy or kind of scared to speak their mind, but now since more and more people are speaking out and everybody’s sharing their stories and how they feel, whether they’re white, black, Latino… [Inaudible]. I think it’s important that everybody understands one another. That’s how the world works. We have to work together to understand and make things better.
Q: What do you think about the support from the Patriots organization and Robert Kraft pledging $1 million to different organizations for this movement? How does it help to have veteran teammates at a time like this to help craft a message that can serve as solidarity behind this movement?
JW: The Patriots organization has always been behind its players. Mr. Kraft has been doing things like this even before this situation arose. A lot of the guys on the team have been working actively in the community – guys like Devin and Jason McCourty, Matt Slater – they have been going out to try and get laws changed to help the youth and things of that nature. They’ve always showed a great example of what should be done and how things should be done to make positive change in the world. It’s good to have that veteran leadership and the leadership of Mr. Kraft. When you walk into the building you learn the outreach they try to make in the community and trying to make positive change. You learn from day one, as soon as you step in.
Q: You have been part of preseasons with and without joint practices. Can you relay from your standpoint what you got out of those when you had them and what it was like when you did not have them?
JW: With the joint practices it was always cool to go up against somebody else instead of going up against your own teammates over and over and over again. Either way, Coach [Bill] Belichick finds ways to make us better whether it’s us scrimmaging or splitting half and half into teams and finding different drills and situations to work on. He always had us prepared whether we have joint practices or not, so he does a great job of challenging us and like I said, finding ways to team to gel and grow each and every day we step on the field.
Q: Do you have a preference one way or the other?
JW: Not particularly. One joint practice is always cool, as long as you don’t have to travel twice. Last year we had to travel twice back-to-back and that was different [laughs].
Q: As someone who came from a major college program do you see more college kids speaking out more and if you thought about the NFL leading the way in social activism and just some of your general opinion of what is going on in the college game?
JW: Yeah, I think that’s cool. I think the younger generation is learning from the older generation. The more that the NFL guys speak out, it will leak down to the college level. In college, we were very active in the community and college guys should be more active in the community and speak out and let the world know how they feel. Try and make the world a better place, I think that’s what it’s about and that’s what it comes down to.
Q: Is it more difficult for college-age athletes and would you like to see college kids speak out a little more?
JW: It’s a little bit more difficult. There are a lot more restrictions in college but I think it would be cool because obviously guys are saying the right things and they’re trying to make positive change.
Q: We are all processing what we saw but you have been processing it for a long time and not have people hear you. How mentally exhausting has the last few weeks been? Does it get mentally and personally exhausting to be a touchstone for this stuff?
JW: It can be a little mentally exhausting but like I said, the more we can explain, the more we can help somebody understand. Different situations that different people deal with in America, it’s only going to help make things better. Everybody should educate themselves a little bit more on the black history of America, including myself. Get a better understanding of how laws work, how racism works, how different states have different laws. There are probably some laws that some people might not know exist but the more we can learn, the more educated we’ll be and the more we can help each other out.
Q: Tell me about the conditioning you guys are right now? How limiting or behind might you feel when you walk into training camp? Do you think you will you need to have a ramp-up period?
JW: Everybody’s just trying to find ways to stay in shape. Everybody’s going to be different things and have different access to different facilities in different states. Some stuff is closed; some stuff is open. You just have to find ways to lift weights, run, catch the football. Go over your football plays, go over your notes and stay on top of things. We don’t know when we’re going to start, whether it’s going to be earlier or later, so you just have to stay on top of it. It’s going to be tough those first few days in camp or whenever we start no matter how much you’re doing because it’s going to be a little bit different once everything’s kind of flying around and your coaches are yelling and screaming and all things of that nature. It will be an adjustment. You just have to be in the best shape possible so whenever we get back out there you’re ready to go.
Q: Rahsaan Hall, director of the racial justice program at the ACLU of Massachusetts spoke to the team last Friday. What was his message and what was that discussion like for you guys?
JW: It was cool to speak to him. He works with Devin often and last year they had a law change that prevented young juveniles from in jobs and things of that nature. Devin McCourty and him are very actively trying to make positive change in the Boston community. His message was pretty much the same as what I was saying and that’s to educate people, educate yourself, so the world has a better understanding so that we can make change in a positive light. It’s not going to change one day just because of protests for two days. We have to actively go out and speak to governors, politicians, all those people so they can hear our voices so things can change as soon as possible because it needs to happen.
Q: What does it mean that Coach Belichick took the time to have hear from Rahsaan Hall and have that type of conversation?
JW: It’s awesome. Coach has an open mind and he understands everything that’s going on and some people are upset. He wanted to get a better grasp on things, we all wanted to get a better grasp on things. So, it was very cool to have him understand everything that’s going on and how different players feel differently and kind of form a common ground.
Q: How have the video conversations been with your teammates who may have been unaware of the racial and social injustice in the world? Do you feel like when you voice your opinion that you’ve been supported by Coach Belichick?
JW: Yeah, I feel like I’ve been supported. Like I said, I think everybody’s trying to open their ears and listen. People of different races may not realize what black people can go through on a daily basis. It’s not even just black people. It’s Muslim people, Latinos, they can be treated differently at times and that’s not the way the world should work. Morally I think everybody should treat everybody the same, respect everybody and get to know their character. The world should open their ears listen to everybody’s feelings. I think that’s the only way to make things work.
Q: When you do get back on the field will it be more difficult for Jarret Stidham to grasp the playbook and feel chemistry with his teammates without spring practices this year?
JW: I think it’s going to be challenging for everybody, not just the younger guys. Just not being together. We usually have two-and-a-half months of working together and forming that camaraderie, forming those relationships. We’re just kind of going to get thrown in the fire a little bit. So you have to come in, study your plays, be in condition so we can limit the amount of mistakes. At the snap of a finger you’ll be playing a game, so it will be challenging for everybody across the league and we’ll see who can face that adversity. We just have to make the most out of it.
Q: LeBorn James and other prominent athletes have formed a group to protect voting rights. Are you interested in that and have you spoken to your teammates about it?
JW: Me and my teammates have not spoken about it directly but I’m sure the conversations will pick up and we’ll all talk about how we can make a change in our community and the world in a positive way. A lot of people are speaking out. A lot of people are trying to do a lot of different things. The Players Coalition is trying to get rid of qualified immunity, things of that nature. Just small steps. Rome wasn’t changed in a day and everything’s not going to change in one day. We have to keep pushing at it and keep working together to make things happen.