Carson Wentz arrived in Philadelphia four years ago with very little understanding of the Black experience.
The Eagles quarterback grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota, where just 2.5 percent of the city’s population is African American.
He went to college at North Dakota State University, where just 2.9 percent of the student body is Black. If not for the fact that he played football, he probably could’ve gone days or weeks without seeing a Black person.
Now, he’s the franchise quarterback for a team whose training-camp roster is 72.5 percent Black. He needs that 72.5 percent to help him win football games. He needs that 72.5 percent to have his back. Which means he needs to understand their concerns about social justice.
“A lot of learning, a lot of learning,” Wentz admitted Thursday. “And a lot of conviction in my heart. Growing up in North Dakota — I’m sure a lot of you saw my statements after the George Floyd murder. It’s something that’s kind of new. It’s something that [in the past], I chose to overlook and look past.
“In high school, I think I had just a couple of Black classmates. It was something that was so foreign to me.”
It’s not foreign to him any longer. In recent months, he has watched the impact the police shootings of several Black men and women, including Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and, last Sunday, Jacob Blake, have had on his Black teammates.
“This offseason, I took a real look into showing empathy and trying to understand what it’s like to be a Black man in this world, in this country,” Wentz said. “Not just in today’s world, but going back 400 years to now, and how we got to this point.
“I’ve been educated a lot and am looking at it through a different lens than I was before. I’ve learned a lot of things. By no means do I have all the answers or have it all figured out. But it’s really heavy on my heart and on the hearts of a lot of guys in this locker room, for sure.”
Growing up in lily-white Bismarck, Wentz believed the cops could do no wrong. If they shot somebody – Black or white – he figured they had a good reason. He figured they had no other choice.
But in June, the Eagles quarterback was one of more than 1,400 current and retired athletes — Black and white — to sign a petition urging the passage of the Ending Qualified Immunity Act, a bipartisan bill that would make it easier for citizens to sue police officers who violate their civil rights.
“First and foremost, I have a lot of respect and love for police officers,” Wentz said. “I do feel bad sometimes for how they’re treated in a lot of these cases. They’re put in a lot of high-stress situations. But the fact of the matter is, one bad [cop], and it’s all bad. Even if 99 percent of them are great, you can’t have one bad one.
“I don’t know what the answer is. I do think there needs to be something done as far as education and training. Because the fact of the matter is, as a police officer, you’re carrying a weapon. You have life and death in your hands sometimes. That’s a tall task. And it’s not meant for everybody.
“I don’t want to come off like I’m bashing them or anything. But you can’t have one or two bad ones that end up creating death for communities and inflicting that [kind of] pain.
“At the end of the day, people do things wrong. Some of these situations, maybe the victim handled them wrong. But they don’t deserve to die on the street because of what they did. It’s heartbreaking, and things need to change. I don’t know what the answers are. But it’s something that I’m continuing to learn about.”
Blacks are at their breaking point in America. With each shooting like Blake’s on Sunday, their anger, their hate for cops, grows.
All across the NFL, teams held meetings Wednesday and Thursday so that players could share their feelings on the latest shooting.
Eagles safety Rodney McLeod said he talked to Wentz and tight end Zach Ertz Wednesday about the situation.
“The one thing COVID has done is allowed the world to be at a standstill, and us not to get too distracted by our daily routine or our daily job,” McLeod said. “We’re witnessing these things head-on without any distractions, and it’s becoming evident that there is an issue, and you’d have to be ignorant to think differently.
“Guys like Carson and Zach are now speaking up and trying to understand our side a lot better. ... We’re creating this dialogue within our own locker room, and that’s a good thing. That’s what you want to see. A willingness to listen. Them educating themselves so that they can go out and try to help change the mindset of a lot of non-African American individuals that just don’t know. It’s important that we continue to see that type of dialogue with our [white] peers.”