As a Black child growing up in an otherwise all-white neighborhood in Georgia, Jonathan Jones used to walk out onto his driveway and find bags of flyers for the Ku Klux Klan.
“That was normal,” he said. “That was normal.”
Jones was one of several members of the Patriots organization to shed light on his personal experiences involving racism, as part of an hour-long roundtable discussion that aired Friday evening on WBZ. Twenty-one players, coaches, and scouts were divided into small groups, where they discussed the state of race relations in America.
For Jones, the flyers were just one example of how he was treated. While attending Carrollton High School, he was dating a white classmate, which prompted a few of the white football coaches to call the girl’s parents after they saw the couple walking together at school. Once Jones found out, he said he felt a level of “distrust” between himself and those coaches.
“How can you be for me but you don’t like me dating someone else’s daughter?” he asked.
For center David Andrews, as a fellow Georgia native, hearing his teammate’s story not only saddened him but also opened his eyes to a very different reality.
“I’m someone who loves the state of Georgia and wants to live there,” said Andrews, who also spent four years at the University of Georgia. “That hurts your heart hearing that. It’s very different. I didn’t have a lot of those talks.”
Andrews acknowledged that as a football player, the locker room environment — even one with Black and white teammates — is not necessarily representative of life outside.
“It’s not really how the world works,” he said.
Andrews remembers how he and his college teammates would go out to bars that enforced seemingly frivolous rules, such as no earrings allowed. At the time, he didn’t think anything of it. The group would just go to a different bar. Now, he realizes those rules had a deeper meaning.
“That wasn’t to keep earrings out,” he said. “You look back, and all these things — that’s such a little thing and something that sticks out — but you just don’t realize it at times, how it made people feel, or that some of your teammates were dealing with things like this.”
Scout Steve Cargile called being a Black man “an everyday struggle,” one that requires additional consciousness. Cargile, who lives in a townhome community where the trash receptacles are at the end of the complex, said he thinks twice about taking his trash out late at night.
“Instead of me saying, ‘Well, I can take my trash out at 10 o’clock at night,’ there might be a problem with that,” Cargile said. “If it’s cold outside and I have a hoodie on and I’m coming back, and somebody looks out the window and sees a tall imposing Black man that they feel is threatening, that can turn into a situation where the police are called.”
Fellow scout Ronnie McGill, a South Carolina native who has been with the Patriots for 10 years, said people used to tell him, “There is no racism up north.” Once McGill arrived in New England, however, he learned that wasn’t the case. Early in his tenure, McGill remembers taking a group of players into a Boston hospital for physicals. While in the waiting room, a white woman sat down two seats away from him.
“She puts her purse beside me,” McGill recalled, “then I think they called her name to go into the office, and she looks at me, and I look at her, and I’m not really paying attention to her, and she says, ‘You’re not going to steal this are you?’ ”
McGill was taken aback but opted not to say anything.
“If I didn’t work for the Patriots, then there would have been a better chance I would have said something,” he said. “I didn’t want to get fired for getting into an argument with an older white lady.”
Other players shared the tactics their parents taught them, should they encounter police. Defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. said his mother told him to move very slowly and deliberately, so that the officers could clearly see where he was reaching. If he had to grab something out of the officer’s line of vision, Wise was advised to grab it with two fingers to avoid escalating the situation.
Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley said he was taught to signal he’s not a threat by doing a lot of waving and smiling.
“You wave and smile just to kind of ease everybody’s nerves,” Bentley said. “Our normal has not always been normal. It has never been normal.”
Players and staff are hopeful that these conversations can generate action.
To help fight against systemic racism, Patriots owner Robert Kraft recently pledged $1 million in the form of monthly $100,000 donations to local grassroots organizations that are working to achieve equality and create meaningful change.
"As someone who's white, to hear these types of stories, which I would say over the last few months is something I've heard more of, it's embarrassing," said director of player personnel Nick Caserio. "You hear this, and you're embarrassed at the ignorance that exists."
“It’s been a crazy year,” added wide receiver Julian Edelman. “With everything that’s happened, I think we can really use this and learn from this and put it toward the future to try to improve. Listening, learning as a white guy, that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Cornerback Jason McCourty said he is encouraged by the number of people that want to get involved and do what they can to help.
“At the end of the day, when you want change and you want things to move in a different direction, you have to make noise,” McCourty said. “I do see a future, and I do have hope that things will change in this country.”
Friday’s discussion also included the following Patriots players, coaches, and scouts: Justin Bethel, Brandon Bolden, Brandon Copeland, DeMarcus Covington, Brian Hoyer, Jakob Johnson, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Ronnie McGill, Derek Rivers, Matthew Slater, Ben Watson, and James White.