One thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, especially today on Veterans Day, is what it means to have a platform.
I guess it’s tempting, sometimes, to think that it doesn’t mean anything. With everyone out there on Twitter, and Facebook, and IG and all of that … with all of the opinions and narratives that are always flying every which way on cable news … it’s a lot of noise. And you hear enough of that noise, and you kind of start to wonder if anyone can — or even wants to — hear anyone else at all.
But if there’s anything I’ve learned this year, it’s that all of that noise we keep hearing — it’s not an accident. We’re hearing that noise because there are real people out there, facing real issues, and real inequalities, some in ways like never before. In 2017, in America, silence is no longer an option.
I’m a person who is comfortable in his own skin. I’m 29 now. I’ve got two daughters, a wonderful wife, two amazing parents. I’ve been all over this country, from Charlotte to the Bay. And I feel confident in the fact that I’ve developed a foundation for my character that I can be proud of. I know what I believe in, and I know what I stand for.
And I know what I stand against.
But when someone tells me that my stances, or athlete stances in general, are “disrespecting the military” — which has become a popular thing to accuse peaceful protestors of — it’s something that I’m going to take very, very seriously. One of the beliefs that I hold most dear is how proud I am to be an American — and how incredibly thankful I am for our troops. I know how fortunate I am to live in this country, and to do what I do for a living, and to raise my daughters in peace and prosperity. But I also hear from plenty of people who don’t have it nearly as good as I do. Plenty of people who are genuinely struggling in this country. Especially our veterans.
And every single veteran I’ve spoken to, they’ve all said pretty much the exact same thing: That this conversation we’ve started to have in the world of sports … whether it’s been Colin kneeling, or entire NFL teams finding their own ways to show unity, or me saying that I didn’t want to go to the White House — it’s the opposite of disrespectful to them.
A lot of them have said, that even if they don’t totally agree with every position of every person, this is exactly the thing that they fought to preserve: the freedom of every American to express our struggles, our fears, our frustrations, and our dreams for a more equal society.
One of the most rewarding conversations that I’ve had this year was with a veteran — it was just the other night, actually. My wife, Ayesha, held the opening for her restaurant, and we all came out to eat dinner there and support her. And one of the guests who came in that night was a man named Michael, who was there with his wife. He came up and introduced himself, and we just got to talking.
He happened to have served in Afghanistan — and he told me about how much he had been through, both physically and mentally, just in trying to transition back into society, and into his daily life. He offered some advice to me, about how I could help to raise awareness about some of the serious issues that veterans are going through — for example, with the Veterans Affairs medical system, and how its administration is broken. And he educated me on demographics — telling me about how less than 1% of the population today serves in the military, which makes it a real struggle for veterans, as a political constituency, to get the representation that they need.
How come those issues never seem to be a trending topic?
We hear all the time on TV and social media about “supporting our troops.” But it’s not just about saluting them or thanking them for their service at the airport — and it’s definitely not just about how we observe the national anthem. Michael told me that our veterans need real action. They need real help with medical services, and access to jobs, and readjusting to society.
At almost every turn our conversation took, Michael found some common ground: from talking about how he’s a Warriors fan (good, good, I like it), to — way more importantly — pointing out how most of the issues that military vets face at home are actually the same as the issues faced by a lot of America. Homelessness, unemployment, mental health and, yes, racial inequality — those are the issues that our vets are facing. These are mostly universal issues, which are being felt in every town in America.
And as Veterans Day has been approaching this week, and as I’ve been thinking more and more about what using my platform really means to me — my conversation with Michael is something that I’ve kept coming back to.
You know, I remember when I woke up on the morning that (I still can’t believe I’m saying these words) the President tweeted at me. You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but, man, it was … surreal. It was the morning before our first day of practice, so I was getting in a good sleep. And when I woke up — I mean before I even saw the tweet, or knew what was going on — I had about 30 text messages, all at once. Just blowing up my phone. They were all these friends of mine, just, like, defending me, and telling me that I was right, and, you know, not to worry about it. But I had no idea what they were even talking about.
Then finally I brought up Twitter, checked on my mentions and all of that — and I saw it.
It was what it was.
And now, of course, it’s those same people — who couldn’t understand why I would peacefully state my opposition to our White House visit — who will tell you that pro athletes, when they engage in peaceful protest, are disrespecting the military, our flag and our country.
Which I guess is why I decided that I wanted to write this, now.
Because if I’m going to use my platform … I don’t want to just be noise. I want to use it to talk about real issues, that are affecting real people. I want to use it to shine a spotlight on the things that I care about.
And I care about our veterans deeply.
So that’s why I’m writing this — that’s my plea to y’all for this Veterans Day: Let’s please not get lost in another one of these endless debates about who means what when they’re doing what, or who is disrespecting whom.
Instead, let’s respect — let’s celebrate — our veterans, by having a conversation about the actual ways that we as civilians, as their fellow Americans they’ve fought to protect, can hold up our end of the bargain. Let’s talk about the broken VA medical system, and traumatic brain injuries, and PTSD. But let’s also talk about homelessness, and unemployment, and mental health, and, yes, racial inequality.
Let’s talk about how we can do better, to make their lives easier.
Let’s use our platforms, and take this day, to talk about how we can be louder than all of this silence — and quieter than all of this noise.