INDIANAPOLIS – Chris Ballard could not stay silent any longer.
As the General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts, Ballard knows the position of authority he is in, and felt that it was time to speak up on the social injustice issue that has dominated the news headlines all over the United States the past week.
Ballard hopped on a Zoom call Thursday to share his thoughts, just a few days after Frank Reich met the media.
It was as passionate and emotional as Ballard has been in a media setting.
Below are all of Ballard’s comments, including the handful of questions he fielded after his opening statement:
-Opening statement: “I’m not here to talk about football. I don’t have a prepared statement. I’ve got some notes. But I’m just going to talk about how we are feeling, how I’m feeling, what I’ve experienced here over the past 10 days, watching what is going on in our country and then watching what happened the last two days (in the Colts team meetings). I’ve been in this league 20 years and it might have been as impactful of a two days that I’ve ever been part of. And I’m proud of the leadership we have in terms of Frank Reich, what he stands for as a man. He stands for everything that’s right and to watch him lead right now makes me very proud. To watch our players speak to what’s on their hearts, and on their minds, makes me very proud. To watch (former Colts player and current Colts Director of Player Engagement) David Thornton, one of the unsung heroes of our organization, lead the charge for change. He’s a special human being, a special person. I consider him a close friend and just lucky to have him around, and on our team. I feel very fortunate. But I can’t sit here and remain silent because that’s exactly what we’ve done every time our black community screams and yells for help. We have to end social injustices and racial inequalities. We have to end the police violence against our black communities. Black lives matter. I don’t see why that’s so freakin’ hard for the white community to say. Black lives matter! I’ve been ignorant, been ignorant to the real problem. I’m ashamed of that. I just came to the realization of that over the last 10 days to some really hard, difficult conversations that we’ve had as an organization, as a team, with my family, with my sons. This is not a black problem. This is a white problem. This is an issue that we have to talk about. And we can’t sugarcoat it. We can’t sugarcoat our way out of it. We can’t go back into our bubble because that’s what we’ve always done. We’ve always gone right back into our bubble and we’ve never really listened. We haven’t listened. I haven’t listened. We haven’t listened as a country. White America refuses to listen. We want to keep things the same. And it can’t. Or we will continue down the same path that we are continuing down. And that has to change. And nothing will change until we do that. I’m ashamed of that. I’m embarrassed by that. I pride myself on connecting and really getting to know people and caring for them. Don’t get me wrong, my wife and I teach love and respect for everybody, no matter what their race, whatever their religion is, whatever their sexual (preference) is, doesn’t matter. We teach them to respect and love. But we didn’t teach them really what they need to know. It’s got to be more than that. It’s got to be more than that. I had long talks with our kids, especially my son, over the last week. My wife is out of town with the girls right now, so it’s just been us in the house. What is going on in the country? They have no idea. That’s my fault. That’s my fault as a father. It starts when they are young. It starts with their families. Kids are not born to hate. They are not. They don’t have any clue about race. They are taught it. They are taught it at home. When I hear stories, it breaks my heart. The last two days, listening to our players talk, listening to our coaches talk, what kind of place do we live in where they feel uncomfortable buying a car and afraid that they are going to be racially profiled because of what they are driving. What kind of country and place do we live in where a black man and his family go into a restaurant and they get second looks? It’s not a good place. (Gets emotional) I was ignorant to it. I was ignorant to the fact that it was happening. And shame on me. That’s won’t happen again. We are going to stand up for what is right. We are going to stand up for what is right as an organization. People deserve it. This is about humanity. This is about human rights. This is about human lives we are talking about here. You have to have some empathy for the human life. We are all the same. I was naïve to this. I’m very naïve. I think, ‘Well, okay, I don’t see color.’ But I’m naïve to think that everyone else is the same way. And then there’s little things I did that I didn’t realize was hurting other people. We’ve had some great talks. I got to listen to a close friend that I’ve worked with for a long time. I talked to him and his wife last night tell me of the things they’ve had to deal with over time. For me to not be empathetic for that is just flat wrong. Explaining to my kids, they didn’t understand the protests and the violence. I explained to them, ‘People are trying to peacefully protest, but they are screaming and yelling for help.’ I didn’t agree with the violence, but I understood it. I understood the violence. They are screaming for help. Look at the signs. ‘I can’t breathe. Stop killing black people.’ They are screaming for help and it’s our job to help. If you have got any decency in you, you’ve got to want to help. That’s our duty. That’s what this country is about, that’s what this country was built upon. I’m going to read (from the Declaration of Independence) ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ Well, that ain’t happening right now. That’s not happening. We can say, ‘Oh yes…’ No, it’s not. It’s not. This is how I kind of explained it to my son the other day, ‘How does the black community feel when they see George Floyd with a knee on his throat die because of it?’ Then to have three people watch it, three other people watch it and not do anything! That’s what we are doing as a country. We are watching it and we are not doing anything about it. That makes me sad. To have a fear that every time you live every day that a black American comes into contact with a police officer and they are scared, and they are fearful of what can happen, that is wrong. That is dead wrong. This is how I put it to my son the other day. I said, ‘Close your eyes. And I want you to think about this. Police officer has a man, has a knee on him, he’s choking him, sucking all the air out of him and I want you to think that’s your father, who is white. Think of what your reaction would be. Think about seeing that over and over again. What would your reaction be? You would be angry. You would be hurt.’ I want to thank all our players, all of them, every single freakin’ one of them. They brought it to light. I thought Jacoby Brissett put it the best, ‘Either you are part of the solution or you are part of the problem. For us to sit here and remain silent, you are part of the problem. I want to do my part. I know we can’t fix this overnight. I know it’s going to take time. But I want to do my part. My family will do our part. You can bet on that.”
-On if Ballard thinks the NFL has restricted players ability to protest, specifically Colin Kaepernick kneeling: “I’ll say it this way. Like everyone, we didn’t listen. I didn’t listen in ’17. I didn’t listen to Darius Butler (when he knelt as a member of the Colts). I love Darius Butler. He tried to explain it. I thought I heard it. I didn’t hear it. We didn’t listen. We didn’t listen.”
–On what Ballard learned from his players the last two days: “We have guys hurting. Really hurting. That makes me sad, man. They are hurting (gets emotional). And I didn’t see it. Don Patterson, who I’m close with, worked with in Kansas City, and does some work for us, made a great point. It’s one of the things I love about football. The locker room is really a special place, man. It doesn’t matter your color, your religion. It doesn’t matter. They have to come together and come together as a team. It doesn’t matter your color, or your race. It’s one of the fair places. It might be one of the last pure, fair places that we have. Don made this statement, ‘Well, you all talk about how special the locker room is. Why can’t we take the locker room to the world?’ Absolutely. It’s one of the great things about this game. It’s easier said than done. But he’s right. If everybody in American could experience what our kids do in that locker room, they would understand better, because they all come together. But here’s the problem, when our black players walk out of the locker room, it changes. Their mindsets change because now they are in protection mode. A lot of them said, ‘They are numb. They have become numb to the looks. They have become numb to when they walk on an elevator and somebody moves the other way, just because of the color of their skin. They become numb when they go to a restaurant and people give them a double look. They become numb to that. That’s a shame. That sucks. That freakin’ sucks. That sucks.”
–On what actions the Colts will be taking: “Glad you asked that. David (Thornton) reached out to the players collation, which was created by Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins in a combination of working with the league. I was really impressed by their approach and what they want to do. We are going to work with them. I was blown away listening to them yesterday. They have a great approach to the structural changes to a variety of problems that plague the black community, including criminal justice reform, police and community relations. We are really looking forward to drawing on their expertise and guidance in these critical issues. They are going to work with us and we are going to work with them. I encourage the entire league to reach out and use them. They are outstanding and they stand for the right things. I listened to Anquan Boldin talk, and his group of experts, and was blown away by the work they had put in and the things they are doing. Change will not be easy. It’s going to take all of us. It’s going to take all of us working together to create this change. And it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take us the power to vote and to really dig in on the issues and to know who we are voting for and do they stand for the right things. Do they stand for the right things? There’s things that were brought up that I had no idea. And just felt stupid for not having an idea about what was going on.”
-On the lack of minority coaches/GMs in the NFL and what the league, and the Colts, can do to address that: “Let me say this, Jim Irsay is outstanding. He stands for all the right things, too. I think we have to continue to put people in position to succeed. Jim Irsay has a great history. And he didn’t hire these men because they were African-American and black. He hired them because they were great coaches, great leaders. Tony Dungy, this guy is in the Hall of Fame. You freakin’ kidding me. Jim Caldwell, these guys are great coaches. I think we continue to develop. I think we have some young coaches on our staff that I think are really good and can develop. But there’s no doubt that we have to do more as a league. We have to continue to develop and get guys in position to where they can succeed.”
-On the 2017 kneeling and if players were to kneel this year, would Ballard look upon that differently: “Whatever our team ends up doing, we are going to support. But we are going to do that together as a team. That’s what we are going to do as a team. We are going to support them, and we are going to do it together as a team. We’ve said that all along. Whatever we decide to do, we are going to do that as a team. That is the beauty of that locker room, we are going to do it as a team. I understand why people took a knee. I didn’t completely understand it the first time, but damn right I do now.”
Chris Ballard shares his thoughts on social justice and racial inequality: pic.twitter.com/UvsLBjrsaT
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) June 4, 2020