Texans coach Bill O’Brien added his voice to the growing list of NFL figures who have been affected by the murder of George Floyd, a native of Houston.
O’Brien opened a Wednesday videoconference with reporters by making a lengthy, heartfelt statement regarding the situation. His commitment to be being part of the change that seems increasingly inevitable in this moment is obvious, and it’s clear that O’Brien has searched his mind, his heart, and his soul to understand the concerns of men and women who have been victimized by systemic discrimination, and to find ways to participate in the movement that Floyd’s death has sparked.
O’Brien’s comments appear below, taken from the transcript circulated by the Texans:
“I would say first on behalf of the Houston Texans, we want to send our deepest condolences to the family of George Floyd, Houston’s own George Floyd. The more I read about George and think about George and know that he played football at Yates High School and how much he loved Houston and how much he loved his family and watching his family over the last three or four days and how just passionate and how just unbelievably strong they have been, whether it’s here in Houston or when they went to pray where he was murdered in Minneapolis. They’ve just been a great example for this country. The Floyd family has been an unbelievable example for this country and topped off by yesterday with 60,000 people down there at the [Discovery] Green in downtown Houston. I think that’s what Houston’s all about. Houston comes together. Houston unites and Houston is uniting around the Floyd family. I think a lot of that has to do with the example of the Floyd family.
“Our heart goes out to that family. Our hearts go out to the black community in this country, especially in this city. We stand by you and we are ready to do our part in this community. I think everyone has to admit their mistakes along the way.
“We all have to stand up and understand what’s going on in this country right now is wrong. It’s wrong relative to many, many things. I had a great conversation with a friend yesterday. A friend of mine, who I won’t mention his name, but he talked to me. He’s a black man and he talked to me a lot about his experiences growing up in Miami and living on the West Coast and it’s not just police brutality, although that’s what we’re talking about right now. It’s corporate America, it’s professional sports, it’s the medical area, it’s the legal area — it’s everything. We all have to do our part. We all have to do it now.
“I spoke with Brian Flores yesterday. Brian Flores is great friend of mine. We worked together in New England for five years. He brought up a great point. Brian Flores said that one thing we can all say is that we 100 percent agree on the fact that what we saw in Minneapolis was just absolutely horrendous. We can all agree on that and we all know, Brian said, that this has to spur change. Jack Easterby and I have had several conversations over the last week, eight, nine days. Many of those conversations have included Janice McNair, Cal McNair, and Hannah McNair. When I think of those conversations with the McNairs, I think of the words empathy and leadership. Janice McNair has just been in tears on the phone with us about how heartbroken she is for what she saw. Cal and Hannah McNair, yesterday we had a long conversation with them. You’ll hear more from Cal later today about we have to do our part. We have to listen, we have to stand by the black community and we’ve got to do our part. We do. The McNairs, like I said, are heartbroken over the murder of George Floyd and they are committed to doing whatever it takes to promote social justice in our city. They’re committed to it.
“Like I said, you’ll hear more about that later on today. In my role as a head coach at Penn State and Houston, I’ve been fortunate to be a head coach. Fortunate. I don’t take that for granted. I’ve had the privilege of being around some unbelievable players and coaches. I’ve learned a great deal from all of them. As it relates to the Texans, I’ve learned so much from men like Romeo Crennel when he talked to me one time about his experiences coaching college football in the south during the late ’60s, early ’70s. I’ve learned a lot from Deshaun Watson, when he talks about growing up in Gainesville and why he has the area code of Gainesville tattooed on his arm. I’ve learned a lot over the last year of talking to Kenny Stills on why he takes a knee. I think we all know why Kenny takes a knee and why Eric Reid takes a knee. I think one of the things that I try to do is I try to coach good football and I try to listen to the players and the coaches and their life stories.
“There’s many other players and coaches that I haven’t even mentioned because it would take all day to mention all of them. Listening to their life stories and many others, like I said, has helped me cement my belief that we all must do whatever it takes to improve our country, especially as it relates to race relations. It is horrendous what we are seeing or what we saw eight or nine days ago. What is great about our country right now is to me the protests, the peaceful protests. The peaceful protests that we see on TV every night has just been an amazing example of what our country is all about.
“I’ve read a lot this week. I’ve read what many people have said and I don’t want to weigh too much into the political realm, but I will a little bit, to be honest with you. I’ve read, like I’ve said, I’ve read Brian Flores’s statement probably 50 times. I’ve read coach [Gregg] Popovich’s comments several times. I’ve read the comments of Presidents Obama and Bush, true leaders. Leaders who have empathy. Leaders that have an understanding of what leadership is all about. Their statements have resonated the most with me. [Brian Flores] spoke about how honesty, transparency and empathy go a long way and we coach a great group of young man who can have an impact, they can. Men like Michael Thomas, who have already been doing great things in this league, can have a huge impact moving forward and we need to stand by them and help them.
“We need to use quote-unquote our platform, whatever that means. I don’t know what platforms mean, I just know that we need to do our part. President Obama spoke and wrote about how we can sustain the momentum to bring about real change. He said, ‘It’s important that we all be interested in being activists,’ and to be honest I’ve thought about what I’m doing, coaching, and can I do more. I realize I have a job to do as a coach. I realize that’s my main job, but can I do more? These people have made me think. President Obama said the protests ‘represented genuine legitimate frustration over decades-long failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system in the U.S.’ This is one of the reasons why Kenny Stills takes a knee. President Bush had a statement yesterday about the fact that this is the time for America to examine our failures. Part of being a leader is being able to admit your mistakes. He said, ‘It’s time for us to listen,’ and that, ‘Many doubt the justice of our country, and with good reason. Black people see the repeated violations of their rights without an urgent and adequate response from American institutions.’
“Coach Popovich spoke about leadership without empathy and how that is terrible. Leadership without empathy is horrendous. When you are a leader you have to have empathy for the people that you lead and what they’re going through. Coach Popovich spoke about how every American has to do their part to bring about change. He spoke about leadership bringing people together, not dividing people. Leadership is about unifying. Brian Flores talked about that yesterday with me. Part of our responsibility as football coaches is to unify the team, to make the team understand that no one is bigger than the team, and that we have to bring people together from all different backgrounds, all different ethnicities, from every part of the country, from every part of the world to come together for a common goal. Isn’t that a microcosm of what we’re in right now?
“These are statements, and statements are not enough, I realize that, but I do think it’s important to speak out. I think as a white head football coach in the National Football League, it’s important to speak out. There is real pain and statements can’t really take the pain away, I understand that. It’s just deeper. On the phone yesterday with the friend of mine that I was telling you about earlier, it’s so much deeper. It’s so much deeper. It’s 400 years ago slavery, it’s segregation, it’s police brutality, it’s not equal opportunities. It’s so much deeper, it’s deeper. We have to stand with the black community and we have to heed the call to action and challenge each other to live out the change that we want to see.
“I’m emotional, I’m sad, you guys know that about me, especially here in Houston. I’m sad, I’m frustrated because I’m questioning what can I do, I’ve got to do more. We’ll talk to our players. We have a player call tomorrow, we’ll talk to our players about it. I’ve been blessed throughout my life to have deep and meaningful relationships with players and coaches who are different than me ethnically. I simply would not have the perspective I have now without these relationships. So, to see discrimination of any kind against an innocent man who was murdered out of evil and ignorance, it simply breaks my heart and makes me angry, makes me angry personally. We have to do better. As a leader committing that we will all have to do better, one thing I know we will not do, we will not virtually meet — whatever the hell that means — on June 9th, which I believe is the day of George Floyd’s funeral. We will not meet on that day, so we will encourage the guys that are here in Houston to go to the funeral if we’re able to go to that. I’ve told my players since 2014 that I have their back. I told my players in 2017, ‘I have your back,’ and I’ll continue to tell them that I have their back. If they need time to themselves, they can have time to themselves. If they need resources from us to try to begin to heal, we’ve got to help them, we have a lot of resources here to do that, they will get it. Finally, if they just need someone to listen – maybe they don’t want to talk to me about it, but we have plenty of people here that they can talk to about it. That’s really what I have to say.”