The Rush: NFL linebacker Sam Acho believes it’s not black vs white, it’s America vs racism

In a special extended episode, NFLPA vice president and free agent linebacker Sam Acho engages host Jared Quay in an open and honest conversation about the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, whether Drew Brees’ apology undoes the damage from his original comment, how a lack of diversity in NFL ownership fuels discrimination and racism, and his forthcoming book titled Let The World See You.

Video Transcript


SAM ACHO: I would say this-- I would say, if it was your-- if George Floyd was your dad or your brother or your son, what wouldn't you do to see justice in America?

JARED QUAY: Welcome back to another episode of "The Rush." Today I got a good friend of mine, very well-spoken guy, a nine-year veteran in the NFL and also the vice president of NFLPA, Sam Acho. Sam, how you doing?

SAM ACHO: Jared, man. I'm great, man. It's good to be on. I mean, we've known each other for-- I'm a nine-year NFL veteran, we've known each other for nine years. So we've been-- we've been-- going back, we have a great history.

JARED QUAY: So I mean just to ask you, I mean, how are you doing right now in this time?

SAM ACHO: Well, it's been heavy. It's been really heavy with the murder of George Floyd and Amaud Arbery, and even looking at Brianna Taylor and then even looking at the Amy Cooper situation in Central Park in New York-- it's been a really heavy week. But it's been great because I think a lot of people are-- their eyes are opening, put it that way. People are waking up to some of the injustices that we've seen year in and year out pretty much since the inception of the United States of America.

JARED QUAY: [INAUDIBLE] has been in it tweeted about it earlier today, about how like, when Colin Kaepernick was trying to peacefully protest, anyone that was aligned with him kind of got a lot of shame on them. And now that it's kind of more popular for people to come out and say they support that, more people coming out. But it takes a lot of work for someone to be the pioneer where they're going to get a lot of their hate.

SAM ACHO: Well, I think that the-- the tides have changed. I think five, even four, maybe even three years ago, there was a lot of talk of, "shut up and dribble." That was the talk, everybody shut up and dribble. Just to stick to sports. And now, we're seeing athlete after athlete-- black, white, no matter your color, your race or your gender or your creed-- speaking out about injustices that are seen, that they see, that they experience in America.

And so, for me, I get excited because I'm saying, wow, people are actually speaking up and they're not scared anymore. And yes, there are certain people who still have a little bit of fear of maybe losing endorsements or maybe losing some followers. But when you realize the state of America right now you realize, maybe you have all these followers, they can listen to you and follow you towards justice, towards freedom.

JARED QUAY: It used to be players that were standing up and no one else, but now you're seeing a lot of coaches and GMs. I know Sean McVay said he was out in support of a peaceful protest and a lot of other coaches. How do you feel about that just from your experience of being a player?

SAM ACHO: Yeah, well, I got a call from an NFL GM today and I got excited 'cause I'm a free agent I'm thinking, am I going to sign in a second? But that it was actually more important. It was more important. He called and he said, hey, Sam, I'm hearing about what you're doing in the community. Thank you. And not only thank you, he called me back and said, hey, is there anything I can do to be a part of that change? Tell me what to do. Give me-- give me an idea and I'm a part of it. And even if it's signed now, later, we don't want this thing to pop up and go away.

And so it's good to see that you've got general manager in the NFL, you've got coaches in the NFL, you've got people-- and predominately, those coaches and GMs, statistically speaking, are white. So you've got these people in management positions speaking out. I'm just hoping-- I'm waiting for the day that more NFL owners will come and say, hey, we stand behind you players and African-American community.

JARED QUAY: And I mean, obviously, you are a tremendous player on the field, but a lot of things you do off the field I think people may not be aware of. I know you and your family, the Acho family, you guys do a lot of help. Your Nigerian, you've gone back and helped the country of Nigeria. And on top of that, you're also a part of the NFLPA making sure that other players in the league are getting their fair due. Can you speak about just a little bit of more what else you're doing and how people can even help you if they want to seek some changes that you've been trying to get put out there?

SAM ACHO: Yeah, well, the first three things, I would say, are simple. If anybody wants to help, not even be a part of the movement, but just educate themselves on what's going on currently in society-- number one, it starts with just doing a quick history lesson. There are a couple of good books to read. If you want to-- talking about social media-- feel free to follow me there and find out those. @thesamacho. There's a couple of books you can read to educate yourself. Videos you can watch, movies to educate yourself-- number one.

Number two, the second thing you could do is to empathize with what's going on. And so, I think sometimes it takes some empathy to put yourself in somebody else's shoes. And the last thing I would say, would be to advocate for people who are-- who don't have an opportunity to speak for themselves. And I know, me personally, I have a book coming out in the fall called "Let the World See You-- How to be Real in a World Full of Fakes." In that book, I talk about some of these injustices. I talk about going to different prisons in the United States looking at the criminal justice reform system. I talk about having relations with owners and different GMs, even being in some of these meetings with the owners and seeing what it's like and the thought processes that prevail.

And then it also talks about just me, what it means to hide and what it means to be real in a world where it seems like everyone wants to pretend, I just recently wrote a piece on the "Players Tribune" about the racial divide within the NFL between upstairs and downstairs. And anybody who's spent any time in an NFL facility-- I've been in four-- you see there's a difference. Upstairs, or the coaches, the GMs, the owners, who are predominately white; and downstairs are the players who are predominately black. And you just see this major divide between ownership and players, between coaches and players and it's really a racial divide.

And so, I think that if owners spoke up and realized that they're a part of the problem in propagating systemic racism and even oppression, we would see a major, major change. But once again, it's not just owners, it's everyone. It's everyone's problem. I think African-Americans make up 12%, or so, of the United States. And if you got 12% of people saying stuff, then no one's going to listen. But you start getting the other 80% involved, 77% involved, you're going to see a major, major change.

JARED QUAY: Yesterday, on Yahoo Finance, Drew Brees went out and said that he doesn't support-- it doesn't agree with anyone that disrespects the flag. And then a lot of players came out saying that he's not fully seeing the vantage point. And I think Tony Dungy came out today saying that, for us to try to just cancel him doesn't do any justice. We need to open that dialogue. What are your opinions on what was said and do you mind telling me how you feel about that?

SAM ACHO: Yeah, I love-- I love what Tony Dungy said about opening the dialogue up. Anyone who knows Drew Brees-- I don't know him personally. I have sacked him before, but I don't know him.


SAM ACHO: Is that, from what I understand, he's a very well-respected guy around the league. So to hear a comment like that could be-- was very frustrating and upsetting for a lot of people, including myself. And so, and obviously, I know he came back and apologized and tried to clarify. But I think that's the growth we can have as a community. We say, OK, let's talk about this. Let's talk about why you would never take a knee during the national anthem. Let's talk about your grandfather's who did fight in different wars. Let's also talk about the African-American men who fought in those same wars and who came back to a country who turned their backs on them.

I was on a Zoom call on Monday with an African-American man who said just that, he said, I fought for this country just to come back and have this entire country turn its back on me. He was devastated.


SAM ACHO: And so, I think the dialogue will help Drew understand history. That, yeah, military and service, it's not just for white people, black people served this country as well. And let's not whitewash our military history. Let's not whitewash all of our history. Let's remember that African-Americans served and they came back to oppression, they came back to racism, they came back to Jim Crow laws, they came back to-- to a bad deal.

JARED QUAY: Is the only solutions? I just feel like we have a lot of protest, and I think you said educate in anything. Is there anything that, if someone's watching this, obviously besides the people that want to educate, what would you like to see us grow to as a country within the next five, 10, even sooner than that, amount of time?

SAM ACHO: Our number one, it's time for everybody to listen. It's time for people to listen-- the white community specifically. And say, hey, this isn't-- it hasn't affected me. It's not any fault of my own. These systems that are in place, though they benefit me, they don't affect me, so it's not my problem. But it still is a problem. And if it's somebody's problem, it needs to be your problem. And so, number one is listen.

And number two-- well, people ask, well, what should I do? Or what can I do? I have no idea how to even start. I would say, if George Floyd was your dad or your brother or your son, what wouldn't you do to see justice in America? So it's not a question of what would you do? What wouldn't you do? You would flip tables, you would go to the hos-- you would call whoever you needed to call, you would work or find a way to change laws. What wouldn't you do if this injustice was your injustice? And so, what I would challenge white America and black-- and everybody, right? We're fighting together.

JARED QUAY: America.

SAM ACHO: It's not a white verse black, it's America versus racism, period.

JARED QUAY: Sam, thank you for rushing with me, man. I can't wait for you to be in a Ravens jersey whenever this country is safe and the football season starts, all right?

SAM ACHO: I appreciate it, Jared.

JARED QUAY: Take care, brother.

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