If former Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles legend Reggie White was around today, he might throw an I-told-you-so at everyone. White, who tragically passed away in 2004 at the age of 43, had a message back in 1997 that has an all-too-familiar familiar tune today. White’s message 23 years ago was similar to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s back in 2016.
White’s football career
Reggie White played 15 seasons in the NFL after playing his college football at Tennessee. White was picked in the USFL’s territorial draft by the Memphis Showboats and was able to play pro football in the same state he went to college. The league folded in 1985, however, and he hooked on with the Philadelphia Eagles.
White played 13 games with the Eagles in 1985 and finished with 13 sacks and 100 combined tackles. In 1986, White played in all 16 games, racking up 18 sacks and a forced fumble. He made the first of his 13 straight Pro Bowls. He played eight seasons with the Eagles and led the league in sacks in 1987 and 1988. During the 1987 season, he recorded a career-high 21 sacks.
White became a free agent in 1993 and signed with the Green Bay Packers. He continued his success in his six years with the Packers. He was a Pro Bowler each season in Green Bay and recorded 68.5 sacks with the Packers. White finished his career with the Carolina Panthers, playing one season after coming out of retirement. White amassed 198 sacks in his career and was the AP defensive Player of the Year in 1987 and 1998.
Reggie White takes heat for his 1998 speech
Known as the Minister of Defense, Reggie White became an ordained Baptist minister at the University of Tennessee. During an interview with ABC’s 20/20, White made disparaging remarks about gays and lesbians. In 1998, White was speaking in front of the Wisconsin legislature. His shifted his topic to his view on homosexuality and why God created different races.
According to The Washington Post, White spoke about each race’s gift. “If you go to a black church, you see people jumping up and down because they really get into it,” he said. “(White people) do a good job of building businesses and things of that nature, and you know how to tap into money,” Hispanics were gifted in family structure, and you can see a Hispanic person, and they can put 20, 30 people in one home.” He said Asians “can turn a television into a watch.”
His speech drew sharp criticism. “For a defensive player, he’s incredibly offensive,” said Rebecca Isaacs, political director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “Comments like these, that express hatred for gays and lesbians and hatred and stereotypes for other racial groups, have a negative effect on our society.”
White’s had similar message as Colin Kaepernick back in 1997
While Reggie White’s 1998 speech triggered some animosity, a big part of his message to Tennessee students in 1997 was similar to what former San Franciso 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said when he was kneeling during the national anthem in 2016. Kaepernick was protesting police brutality and racial inequality. Nineteen years before that, White spoke of the same issues.
While speaking to high school students, White said police officers were provoking young Black men to put them behind bars. “There’s a lot of focus on you all and a lot of that focus is on (putting) you in jail. That’s why police harass a bunch of you guys, because they want you to snap,” White said, according to the Los Angeles Times. ““Why do you think they’re talking about building more prisons instead of creating opportunities for you? Because they want you in jail. They want you to be ignorant.”
White wasn’t around to see Kaepernick’s protest. The Hall-of-Fame defensive end died in 2004 of cardiac arrhythmia.