Mekhi Metcalf plays for the Garfield football team, which kneeled during the national anthem. His dad, ex-NFL player Eric Metcalf, understands, and will have “The Talk” with his son about interacting with police.
Sometime soon, says Eric Metcalf, the NFL three-time Pro Bowler, he’ll be having “The Talk” with his 16-year-old son, Mekhi.
That’s the talk that African-American parents have with their sons about how to interact with police officers.
Mekhi is a junior at Garfield High School, a starting 6-foot, 3-inch wide receiver with the football team that’s been in the national news since the players all took a knee during the national anthem at their game last Friday.
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On Monday, Mekhi tweeted a link to a story with video footage of the unarmed black man shot dead in the middle of the street by a Tulsa, Okla., police officer.
“Yet they wonder why we took a knee,” he wrote.
The team had decided to join a protest that began Aug. 26 when San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick remained seated during the national anthem. He said he chose not to stand to protest the oppression of black people and people of color in the United States.
Since Garfield’s game, the team has been the recipient of malicious and racist comments on social media.
Emails have come to local school officials and government leaders demanding the coach be fired and saying the students’ actions are shameful.
On the team’s Facebook page, a California woman posts, “Disgusting, disrespectful little sh*heads … Break a leg out there.”
When the woman was contacted by a reporter, she hung up the phone.
Under Our Skin
“I try to tune it out, not let it get to me,” says Mekhi. “At the end of the day, it’s about trying to get a championship.”
On Wednesday, the team released a lengthy statement that began, “We have increasingly heavy hearts …”
Among its goals, it said, was “changing the way the media portrays crime. White people are typically given justification while other minorities are seen as thugs, etc.”
About 40 percent of Garfield students are white, 26 percent black, 17 percent Asian and eight percent Latino.
The statement asked for better training for teachers dealing with students. “Example, Why is my passion mistaken for aggression? Why when I get an A on a test, does the teacher tell me, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you could pull that off.’ ”
The team, which will continue to kneel during the anthem, says it will seek meetings with police leaders to “share personal experiences” and with students in classes “where diversity is lacking.” The players seek to embark on open dialogue with school staff.
Felicia Bazie, 18, a senior and student-body president at Garfield, says some students have expressed concern about their safety because of vile social-media comments.
“I tell them to ignore the hate,” she says.
About the football team’s controversy, says Bazie, “Everyone is talking about it in the hallways, classroom, lunchtime. Some classes are having discussions.”
She says about the players, “We have their backs.”
Eric Metcalf, 48, grew up in Seattle’s Central Area and now lives in the Rainier Valley with his wife, Lori, and twins Mekhi and Misha, who also goes to Garfield and runs track. Their other daughter, Mikeil, is a junior at Santa Clara University.
Metcalf did well in the NFL as a running back and wide receiver for seven teams from 1989 to 2002. He was called the “the dangerous X-Factor of Cleveland.”
He could have bought a home anywhere, maybe with the wealthy denizens of Mercer Island.
“No way I’d live over there,” says Metcalf. “I grew up in the city and I need to live in the city.”
Returning home after his NFL career, Metcalf coached track at Rainier Beach High and these days is a volunteer assistant with the University of Washington track and field.
He also runs Seatown Express, which trains youths in track and field. “I wanted to give African-American kids the opportunity to go to college on somebody else’s dime,” he says.
He is very proud of Mekhi, who’s already had nibbles from major college football programs. He is a quiet kid with a 3.0 GPA while taking Advanced Placement and honors classes.
In January, Mekhi will have his driver’s license and that means that soon Metcalf will have that talk that includes how to deal with police.
“Keep your mouth shut. Do what you’re told to do, you never know what can happen. If you start mouthing off you can find yourself in a bad position. Anybody can say they felt threatened,” says the dad.
Plus, “Being with the wrong people. Be smart. Don’t put yourself in a position where it matters.”
He says it bothers him having to have a talk about this with his son.
Says Metcalf, “When we were growing up no one had that kind of interaction with police. We didn’t have to have that talk.”
He remembers a time in the Central Area “when I walked everywhere, not really worrying about things.”
Metcalf has had a few driving-while-black encounters since then; nothing major, but he remembers them.
Early in his career, he was back in Seattle, driving his Porsche with a friend around Lake Washington. Not speeding, he says.
“Hours later, I get stopped at like 19th and Madison. He (the officer) says, ‘We heard you were speeding.’ ”
So he knows he had been tracked, just like when he was with his wife and pulled up at a gas station to fill up. This time he was driving a Ferrari.
A police car drove up, and the officer sat there, watching a black man with a Ferrari.
“What are you doing in Seattle?” the officer asked. “Don’t you play someplace else?”
Metcalf answered, “You ran my plate. Otherwise you wouldn’t know who I am.”
Metcalf was at the game last weekend in which the Garfield team knelt.
“I felt proud of the team,” he says. “They were unified.”
He tries to add up how many times he heard the national anthem, starting from his high-school days to the pros.
“Hundreds,” says Metcalf.
But in the pros, he says, what goes through the players’ minds isn’t so much the anthem.
“Everybody stands and pays attention,” waiting for it to end, says Metcalf. “I’m betting that 9 times out 10, they’re thinking about knocking somebody’s head off.”
On Twitter, Garfield football coach Joey Thomas posted a video he took on the bus on the way to that game.
A tune was cranked up and the video shows the players laughing, swaying and waving their arms.
Thomas, 36, was showing his age by playing “I Know I Can,” a 14-year-old rap tune by Nas.
The song begins, “I know I can, be what I wanna be, if I work hard at it, I’ll be where I wanna be.”
But not long after, the anthem was played, and things turned serious for these teens.