GUEST BLOG / By Bryce Miller, Sports Columnist, San Diego Union-Tribune--Miles McPherson, lead pastor of Rock Church, recently spoke with the San Diego State football team at the invitation of coach Brady Hoke about the George Floyd killing
As Rock Church Pastor Miles McPherson prepared to talk to the San Diego State football team late last week, he weighed the power of the words he planned to share.
These are dark days in America, with the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd in Minneapolis igniting a tinder box of racial pain and emotion from coast to coast. Some of the most important and poignant questions of our lifetimes swirl as La Mesa stunningly smolders.
The former Chargers defensive back understood the vital importance of navigating the intersection of terror and tears.
“The first thing I said was, ‘Football is family. You are family,’ ” McPherson, an NFL defensive back in San Diego from 1982-85, said of the Zoom call. “In families, you have different opinions. You fight. You talk. You have the same uniform. You have the same cause.
“What you learn in football, more than probably any other sport, it’s family above everything, no matter what you look like or where you come from. When we’re on the field, I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine.
“You learn about the blind spots you have.”
That’s the lasting power of sports. It allows the white kid reared on Nebraska farmland to link head and heart with an inner-city black kid from Detroit. It’s country music opening ears to hip hop. It’s Corn Flakes surrendering taste buds to Creole. It’s not who you are, it’s what you’re chasing — together.
Differences slowly and magically begin to disappear. Anxiousness and uncertainty ebb. The games we play and watch drown out societal and socioeconomic disparity through shared purpose, unqualified trust and fertile common ground.
“White people have more power in this country than black people,” said McPherson, who founded Rock Church 20 years ago. “It’s time for all the white people who are mad, which I hope is most of them, to understand this will not be dealt with properly until white people use their power to enlist change.”
Be the best teammate possible. Don’t just see the person at the opposite locker. Understand them. Fight for them. If they stumble, offer a hand. If they succeed, realize that you do, too.
McPherson was asked why this moment — Floyd’s death at the hands and knee of a now-jailed police officer, forever burned into our collective conscience by a horrifying nine-minute video — was the spark that set a nation ablaze.
It’s achingly far from isolated, after all. Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minn. Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Eric Garner in New York City. The list has grown so long, it stains America’s soul.
The era of cell phone video has forced a country to confront its sins, from jogger Ahmaud Arbery being gunned down in Georgia to the Central Park woman who invented race-tinged danger in a breathless 911 call because a Harvard-educated black man politely asked her place her dog on a leash according to park rules.
Why did George Floyd become a nation-altering siren?
“When I saw him get killed, something triggered in me that was latent in my heart,” McPherson said. “There was a sense of powerlessness to white power. A cop killed a man, but it was more than that. It said and showed, your lives are not as valuable as ours. That murder was the ultimate in-your-face, you’re-less-than moment. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back because it was so blatant, because the officer wasn’t initially charged and because the other offers still aren’t charged.
“I’ve cried every day since it happened, pretty much.”
Once he stopped tackling AFC West opponents, McPherson wrote a book called “The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation” with a forward from iconic NFL quarterback Drew Brees.
McPherson exams how mindsets influence outcomes.
“In the book, I write about the us-versus-them culture,” he said. “We focus on who’s on my side and who’s on your side. The third option is that we honor what we have in common. We have more similarities than differences.”
Though it’s far too soon to pinpoint lessons Americans will gather from the haze of tear gas and smoke, McPherson has seen purpose amid the pain. Members of his church, along with many others, rushed to La Mesa to aid in the cleanup of Saturday night’s unprecedented unrest.
In predominantly black Flint, Mich., that county’s sheriff laid down his gear and walked with protesters. In my former home of Des Moines, Iowa, protesters asked police to take a knee with them. When the officers did, they applauded and dispersed.
“There are cops kneeling with protesters, saying I agree,” McPherson said. “There are people hugging cops, sharing water with cops, people praying with cops. Those stories are getting lost.”
McPherson mentioned video of a black woman pleading for two non-African-American women to stop spray painting BLM (Black Lives Matter) on a Starbucks in Los Angeles. The reason: The woman said blacks would be blamed for the vandalism.
So much remains complex.
“When there’s looting, it’s easy to throw the blanket on everybody and the message gets lost,” McPherson said. “The message is, George Floyd was wrongly killed and the person who did it needs to be brought to justice. That’s what we need to be talking about.”
“We need to learn to build bridges, not walls,” he said.
It’s long past time to grab the tools and get to work.
Media source: During the pandemic the San Diego Union Tribune is generously sharing its content with responsible voices in the community.
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