Kenny Easley shared his perspective on a range of topics in a phone call this week as he prepared to visit Seattle for two honors this weekend. He talked about protests, the physical damage football does, Donald Trump and faith.
Kenny Easley is pleased to see athletes coming together to support the right of players who choose to bring attention to the injustices they see in our country. He doesn’t think that would have happened when he was a star player with the Seahawks from 1981 through 1987.
Easley shared his perspective on a range of topics in a phone call this week as he prepared to visit Seattle for two honors this weekend. He talked about protests, the physical damage football does, Donald Trump and faith.
Last month, Easley was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and in his speech, he issued a call to work for an end to the violence that claims the lives of so many young black men. He said, “Black Lives do matter. And yes, all lives matter, too.”
Monday, he added, “I think about it particularly because I have three children.” Most parents worry when their children go out, he said, but the fears are heightened for black parents whose children are more likely to be at risk from neighborhood violence, or encounters with police.
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Some people on social media said the induction ceremony was not the right place for that message.
“What’s the sense of having a platform, if you’re not going to step out on it?” he asked during our phone conversation. He added that the president doesn’t hesitate to share his views.
Easley noted that during the presidential campaign, Trump spoke often about what was wrong with America, and said it was second-rate. Now Trump is attacking athletes for speaking out with their criticisms.
Last Sunday, in response to Trump, players across the country linked arms, knelt or stayed in their locker rooms while the national anthem played. “I pay homage to the players today for what they are doing collectively,” Easley said.
Easley said that because of his age and his faith, he doesn’t say or do the same things he might have said or done as a young man. He finds it interesting that Trump doesn’t seem to have made that kind of change.
“This man is 70 years old, and you would think that a man who has lived for 70 years would be knowledgeable enough and seasoned enough that he would speak with a certain authority and a different sensibility,” Easley said.
“The one thing I do know is that God can change anybody, and I’m just hopeful that if he remains in office throughout his term, that he changes his ways.”
Easley, 58, was a superstar athlete from high school through his professional career. And since leaving football, he’s owned and run several businesses, including a car dealership and a company that manufactures gear for golfers. He lived 19 years in Seattle before moving back to his hometown, Chesapeake, Virginia.
His friends John and Callie Vassall suggested he put his copy of his Hall of Fame bust on display at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle. Vassall is the chief medical officer for Swedish Medical Center, and the couple are supporters of the museum. Easley’s wife, Gail, said Mildred Ollee, the museum’s interim executive director, arranged to have a community celebration of his induction Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the museum.
And in a halftime ceremony at this Sunday’s home game against the Colts, the Seahawks will retire Easley’s No. 45. For years, Easley was estranged from the team because of the way his career ended. He was traded after the 1987 season and then diagnosed with severe kidney disease, which he attributed to taking massive amounts of painkillers prescribed by Seahawks trainers to manage an ankle injury. He reached a settlement with the team for its role in that, and he’s undergone kidney transplants.
The NFL is having to acknowledge the damage the game does to players, most notably brain injuries caused by repeated blows to the head. (In his speech last Friday, Trump said NFL efforts to prevent brain damage were ruining football.)
Football, Easley said, is “inherently violent, and it’s going to impact you,” but “ … you can’t imagine as a 20- or 22-year-old what that’s going to be like 30 years later . …”
He said that, “In the 30 years I’ve been retired, there hasn’t been a day I didn’t have just terrible pain.”
But he also said no one is forced to play professional football. Most of the players have college degrees and could have gone into another profession. “It’s a choice one makes. There are down sides to everything,” he said.
“I could have done a lot of things, but I chose football because it was my best deal,” he said. “I did it to the best of my ability, and it paid dividends.”
Those dividends include giving him a platform for speaking on issues that matter to him.