Over the past two and a half months, as much of our country has lived in quarantine, we’ve witnessed the violent loss of black lives with disturbing frequency. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have died at the hands of racists and law enforcement. Complex Networks recognizes the power of its platforms and is committed to amplifying their stories and the voices of our communities to work for justice.
Four years ago, Brandon Marshall took a knee during the national anthem to protest social injustices plaguing America. Everything the former Denver Broncos linebacker and Colin Kaepernick were protesting in 2016 is now back in the national spotlight following the tragic killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis.
With protests sweeping the country and a call for change bellowing through communities, Marshall isn't looking to tell anyone that he and Kaepernick were right. Instead, he wants to continue the conversation and bring about real change they have been fighting for. Marshall, who is currently a free agent, continues to speak out about social injustice in America and is ready for real change to take place. We had the opportunity to speak with Marshall about the death of George Floyd, his recent conversations with Kaepernick, NFL teams releasing statements about social injustice, and much more.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
The 49ers put out a statement, the Washington Redskins put out a statement. When you see that, what's your first reaction? Especially a team like the 49ers and the history with Colin Kaepernick.
Yeah, it's sad. It's sad because you had one of your own players, a prominent player in the NFL who was peacefully protesting, who spoke so eloquently about the issues that he was seeing. And everybody just turned a blind eye to it. They was like, "Oh, he's tripping or he's a spoiled NFL player." That's what a lot of people say, right? "He's spoiled. He doesn't know what he's talking about." I do believe that people have change of hearts, I get all that. But at the same time, it was right in your face. Right in your backyard. And so I'm not sure if they tried to do anything to assist them, to assist him in his journey, I don't think they did, so to see that. And it's funny, because I laughed. I showed one of my cousins, he's a 49ers fan and I showed him that I'm like, "Yo, look at your team, man." He said they had the audacity to put Black Lives Matter. So it's laughable, but if it's genuine, then I'm all for it. I hope it's genuine.
When you were kneeling, did you feel like you had support from the Broncos and those around the team?
That's a great question. I really felt like I had support by some members of the media and Patrick Smyth, who does PR for the Broncos. I know it's his job to try to mitigate damage. He said it's his job, for the whole PR situation because it fell back on the Broncos. I get all that. But I felt like he was honest with me about everything. We spoke about different things. The head coach, Gary Kubiak at the time, was honest with me. We sat down and we spoke about it. He said he had my back. So I felt like I had some support. Most of my support was from my teammates, just like I'm sure with Kap, most of his supporters were teammates. I felt like I did have a couple people in the media. I was tied to the Broncos and Patrick Smyth helped out a little bit, but other than that, I feel like I was on my own. And I was fine with that.
Did you have a situation where you had to educate any of your teammates about why you were knelling?
Yeah. I mean, I definitely had to talk to some people in the locker room. One guy who's very vocal about his opinions is Derek Wolfe. Me and Derek had conversations about my perspective on things. And he came and gave me his perspective on things. Derek Wolfe is someone who's very strong-minded, but also he was able to listen. And I think that's what most of America was missing. They didn't care to listen. They didn't care to try to understand our issues. The issues that go on in our community and that you might not feel, but we feel all the time. So definitely Derek Wolfe is somebody who was very vocal about how he felt. Me and some guys in the locker room were vocal about how we felt. And we were able to come to an understanding and we were able to coexist and that's what it's about. That's what America's about. We come from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different morals. And we don't have to believe the same things. But as long as you try to understand where I'm coming from, I try to understand where you're coming from, and either we can come to a common ground or agree to disagree. And that's fine.
What were your initial emotions when you saw the George Floyd video?
My initial emotions, it was sickening. I was sick to my stomach. Why should he kneel on that man for eight-plus minutes when he was already subdued, he was already handcuffed. You could have easily stood him up. You already had him in custody. So the fact that they decided to continue to use that excessive force on him...until he passed away is very sickening and very saddening. And, I speak about accountability a lot. There's accountability and families and in teams. The police officers, they're a team. Somebody could have held that man accountable. Somebody could have said, "Look, I know they don't want to look divided or they want to be unified as police officers," but somebody could have, one of the other officers could have turned to him and said, "Yo, get up, get up."
You know what I'm saying? "Stand him up, get off his neck." And we wouldn't even be here today. Nobody held that man accountable. Nobody actually wanted to sit there and do what's right. Because they saw a human being on the ground after he was already subdued. And somebody could have said something. So I think these officers got to hold each other accountable. We need to hold these officers accountable as well, in the justice system. And it was just sickening to see that.
In your recent interview with ESPN, you mentioned speaking to Kap recently. What are those conversations with him like?
Speaking to Kap, I've known Kap since I was 17 and I've seen his maturation and his growth and his care for the people, his care for this particular issue, it's inspiring. It is inspiring because he's so passionate about this and he goes so hard for it. And he's been rewarded in ways like with Nike, and in other ways, he had things get stripped. But talking to him and we have some common ground in this area, he's a pure soul. He's a pure heart. For me to be able to know Kap, and I want to relay the message to so many people, man. He's pure spirit, pure heart. There's not a lot that can knock him down. And I'm sure he gets discouraged because he wants to play in the NFL, right? He gets discouraged. But he's doing what he feels is right. And, as these recent events unfold, he's not looking too bad right now.
What do you mostly reflect on when you look back to four years ago with you and Kap taking a knee?
That's something that we spoke about four years ago. And people looked at us. And I received a letter, a threatening letter. Somebody was saying they were going to put me in a wheelchair, call me all kind of N-words, and derogatory terms. I'm sure Kap received the same. Somebody came to my facility and burned one of my jerseys. And I lost two endorsements.
Really? That was with the Broncos? They came to the facility and burned the jerseys?
Burned the jersey. It was either like a shirt with me on it, or a jersey, they burned it. I lost two endorsements. Century Link and, I think it was Air Academy Credit Union. I lost these endorsements. But I still stayed diligent in what I was doing and what I believed in.
What's your reaction when you hear a former NFL spokesperson say a NFL team should sign Kap right now? That's not even close to something anyone from the league was preaching four years ago.
No, nobody. Nobody even thought about it because they didn't want that type of attention, right? They didn't want that type of press. Because all they were worried about was the bottom line. The bottom line. They were worried about the money. They were worried about the sponsorships, the TV deals. Everything like that. Instead of doing what was right. I'm not even sure if they care to really pay attention and see what he was speaking about. And he spoke more than just about police brutality. It was also about how the veterans come home and they get no real support. It was a wide range of things. And social justice is a big umbrella. He spoke about all of those things, but it didn't matter to them. It didn't matter to them. They just were worried about, "Oh my god, the fans are going to boycott. People are not going to watch the games." But this is a real issue. And you see it all came full circle four years later.
Say the Vikings signed Kap right now, what do you think the reaction would be?
People would go crazy in a good way. I think a lot of people would be extremely supportive of him because at the end of the day, he's a good quarterback. And I've been saying this every year since he been out the league, that you can't tell me there's 32 quarterbacks, or 64 quarterbacks, that are better than Kap. There's not 64 that's better than Kap. Absolutely not. And nowadays, you see what the Eagles did with [Nick] Foles. They won a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback. You need a solid backup. You can't tell me these guys are better than Kap. I don't care what you say. And people all over the Internet, they try to say, "Oh, he's not good." Come on, let's be real. You know what I'm saying? Let's be real about it. They tried to create this narrative about him. When all he was trying to do was stand up for what he believed in. And if somebody signed him, I think it will be great for that team. I think his jersey sales will go through the roof.
Have you ever felt like teams held that against you too?
Yeah, I think it came back on me a little bit. I know I had a knee injury, a knee issue. But I definitely believe that it came back on me a little bit because even when I was healthy, teams probably wanted to stay away from me because of my political stance. But, I think I'll be able to get back in the league. I know I have some interest out there. So, I've been training, working hard. But, I do think it held a little weight. Definitely held some weight.
We talked about the team statements, but what's your reaction when you read the statement the NFL put out?
I read that, "Yo, what is this?" Just like Eric Kendricks said, he's like, "This says nothing. What are you doing? What steps are you guys taking?" This is something that we've been fighting. It started in the league, really. It started in your league. We started the protest, and it garnered attention nationwide. It started in your league. So, this is something that should have been addressed. Something that you guys should have been taking steps towards. And now that it's reared its head again, four years later, now a statement is made. I hope it's genuine, again. But that statement, I read that, I felt no way. I didn't feel moved positively by that.