Why you should care
Becuase this former Super Bowl champion is ready to tell us how players really feel about today’s politics.
No matter how many late-night strolls Roger Goodell takes to the wishing well, the NFL commissioner’s least favorite development continues to gain steam. In perfect alignment with the rest of our lives, the NFL has become a hotbed for bullheaded political and social commentary. Combine the year of national anthem protests with the Patriots’ now-famous Trump fandom and the league peculiarly omitting any mention of the president from recent Super Bowl Media Day transcripts, and this sounds more like a season of Hannity than NFL Countdown.
To help shine a light on the league’s new normal, we met with Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Prince Amukamara, a friend of the program and 2012 Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants. For the countless fans who seem to be fed up with outside coverage, Prince provides a hopeful contrast by giving us a view of what’s actually going on inside. OZY talked with the 2011 first-round pick about embracing debate, positive platforms and what scares NFL players the most about speaking out of turn.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
We’re normal humans — not just warriors in a helmet. We’re aware of what’s going on in the world.
It seems like this was the first year that social, political and moral debate really became commonplace in the NFL. Were the locker rooms more intense this season?
Prince: The presidential election was a huge topic of discussion — just like it was everywhere else in the world. I think those constant conversations opened the door for discussion of other issues too.
Apart from the election, how common are social and moral discussions?
Prince: We’re not robots, you know? We’re normal humans — not just warriors in a helmet. We’re aware of what’s going on in the world. Everyone has their own way of staying informed, some more than others. From Trump and the national anthem protests to the HB2 law in North Carolina, abortions and LGBTQ — of course we’re talking about this stuff! It’s healthy. Everyone has different views, but that helps bring us together. It’s like team bonding.
As a religious guy, do you find that religion comes up a lot?
Prince: Oh yeah, we have debates. As a Christian, when guys come to me with questions about my faith, I love it! Those talks keep me on my toes. I have to engage and give them answers if I know the answer, or admit when I don’t. Any football team will have a bunch of different religious preferences. I’m just happy that the conversations stay positive.
Is it ever difficult to move past those discussions? Does it ever get heated?
Prince: People have emotions, but it’s easy to accept each other’s differences when you’re all working toward one shared goal: the Super Bowl. At the end of the day, we’re gonna come together for our own cause. I can’t afford to worry much about who someone else voted for.
Will all of this momentum carry over to next season?
Prince: This is definitely not going away, which I love. Almost everyone is tuned in. Players are really starting to view themselves as entertainers too. So, whether it’s pushing a social cause, a business interest or politics, guys are really starting to explore new ways to have influence. We have this incredible visibility and reach. Imagine if a player does something at the Super Bowl. It would top any other news of the day. Even just a regular Sunday game is a huge stage. It’s ridiculous, man. These games could have profound effects.
But some risks come along with not “sticking to sports,” right?
Prince: [Laughs] Everyone always says “Stick to football!” Um, no! Maybe that’s what you would do, but I’m here for something bigger than myself. I have this audience that I can broadcast a message to, and I plan on using it. If I’m passionate about something, why would I waste that? I love where we’re headed. One guy might thank God in an interview — boom, that’s great. [Former Vikings punter] Chris Kluwe was able to speak out for LGBT [issues]. Guys can promote what’s close to their heart.
Optimizing that platform is not always easy, is it?
Prince: Yeah, some guys are willing to risk more than others. Some guys don’t care if they get bashed or praised. To me, what it comes down to is, “Will this interfere with my team?” If not, perfect. Obviously, the team is the top priority for any organization. So sometimes a guy may have to decide, “OK, is this truly worth it? Am I crossing the line? Is this worth me being benched or cut?”
Unlike basketball, NFL contracts are not guaranteed. Does that make some players afraid to speak up?
Prince: Of course! That’s when you have to decide if a cause is more important than making a lot of money. If it is, do it. But if it’s not, I say keep getting paid. Then, when you’re well off, you’ll have more flexibility to take chances.