A receiver and a writer
Race Issues | A pro football player’s thoughts on race, violence, sexuality, faith, and more
by Benjamin Watson
Posted 8/06/16, 08:51 am
Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson, 35, is a husband, father of five, and a 12-year NFL veteran who is coming off his best pro football season. In 2014, he wrote a Facebook post that went viral and led to his first book: Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race (Tyndale Momentum, 2015). Since then, Watson, a devout Christian, has become the leading voice among NFL players on racial issues. (See my interview with Watson in the current issue of WORLD Magazine.)
Here, with Watson’s permission, we’re re-publishing some of his writings, including his complete 2014 essay on the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and other topics. You can find more at his blog Truth in the Game. —J.C. Derrick
Watson on the Ferguson Decision
Posted on Facebook on Nov. 25, 2014
At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:
I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.
I’M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music, and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from [the] safety [of] movie sets and music studios.
I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law-abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.
I’M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.
I’M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.
I’M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self-defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.
I’M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I’ve seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.
I’M CONFUSED, because I don’t know why it’s so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don’t know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.
I’M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take “our” side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it’s us against them. Sometimes I’m just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that’s not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That’s not right.
I’M HOPELESS, because I’ve lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I’m not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.
I’M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends, and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.
I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced, and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot, and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through His son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the gospel gives mankind hope.
My name is Benjamin Watson. I am a Christian. I am an American. And culturally I am black
Posted on the Truth in the Game blog on July 26, 2016
To whom it may concern:
My name is Benjamin Watson. I am a Christian. I am an American. And culturally I am black.
Let me be clear. I hate black-on-black violence. It sickens me and is a vivid reminder of the lack of respect, identity, hope, and dignity in many black Americans individually and collectively. It’s embarrassing, inexcusable, and crippling to future generations. So when some in white America dismissively respond with sarcastic and retaliatory slogans of #AllLivesMatter in direct reaction to black outrage over an inexcusable killing at the hands of law enforcement, I feel thoroughly insulted and demeaned.
When people push back and change the subject at hand by pointing to the numerous black-on-black murders in cities like Chicago, I want to scream! Don’t you think I care about people dying!? Don’t you know I cringe every time I see a black face immortalized as a mug shot on the evening news and think about his family and that of the victim? Don’t you know I weep inside thinking of the children who must grow up without a father because he is dead or incarcerated? Don’t you know that my heart aches for the mothers who are left to pick up the pieces?! Don’t you even realize that outrage is not an either/or proposition? I have the capacity to loathe multiple categories of violence simultaneously. Can you not do the same?
I’m also intelligent enough to recognize the difference between violent crime AMONG the citizenry and abuse by those in a position of power, leadership, and protection directed AT that citizenry. The following analogy falls short but my response to an abusive father is remarkably different than my response to quarreling siblings. I would seek to quickly end both but it is much more disturbing and unconscionable when the injustice comes from those sworn to protect and to serve. THIS, coupled with a lifetime of witnessing such occurrences, as well as their grievous and unjust outcomes, makes the present outcry so passionate. I can only speak on what I have seen, but I struggle to recall a single video of any man of any other ethnicity being chased down and shot in the back, or being misunderstood and shot when reaching for a wallet! It seems that what has previously been subjected to the secrecy of the dark is now being broadcast to the world in bright light.
In the wake of another graphic killing with racial undertones, I am undone, but I share too much mutual love and respect for individuals in groups that the world says I should hate to completely succumb to the temptation of blind accusations and blanket generalizations. Incensed by all that has occurred, they are soldiers of peace and understanding, willing to join with me as we humbly confront our biases together. May many more bravely come to the table of reconciliation, especially during this trying time.
Yes I am a black man in America, but regardless of my melanin count, these three things have I committed my life to. TRUTH. That I live by, react in, and uphold that which surpasses opinion, rhetoric, and emotion. JUSTICE. That I stand for the plight of the downtrodden, fight for uniform accountability and fair consequences, and hold others to the same standards that I seek to live by. The GOSPEL. That I fervently address the physical ills of the world with the hope of sharing the essential, equalizing, and everlasting spiritual cure for mankind’s most pressing dilemma. The avenue by which I desire to embody these three must be paved with compassionate strength, because as angry and discouraged as I am at times, a gentle answer turns away wrath and may open the heart of the hearer.
No matter what happens in this country, and no matter how these tragic incidents wreck my spirit, this is my calling and for this I will continue to live.
Posted on the Truth in the Game blog on Sept. 16, 2012
Some of my fondest childhood memories involved spending time with my grandparents. We lived right on the other side of the block from them. In fact, we had a trail going from our backyard to theirs, which included about 20 yards of “illegal” trespassing through the neighbor’s yard! During those hot southern Virginia summers I would walk or ride my bike around the corner and sit with Granddaddy by the garage while he tended his garden, played with Coco, their dog, or hand-washed his sweet ’74 white Cadillac DeVille with whitewall tires. He’d always give me a cold soda from the garage refrigerator, or I’d have my pick from an assortment of suckers and popsicles.
Sometimes I would plan my trip right around dinnertime, because I knew if Grandma saw me, and she was cooking, I was going to be eating! Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, pork chops, cabbage; Grandma could throw down. No matter what the menu for the night I always knew what one of the desserts would be, Jell-O. There would be cherry Jell-O, lemon Jell-O, orange Jell-O, grape Jell-O, or Jell-O with fruit in it. It would come in all shapes and sizes too. That Jell-O would take the shape of whatever container Grandma put it in. Jell-O is liquid when it’s poured into the container. It can easily be poured into another if moved immediately. But after a few hours it will permanently take on the shape of its receptacle. It will conform.
There have been times in my life when I’ve felt like Jell-O. I’ve conformed to the status quo. I’ve assimilated to my surroundings and the pressures of the culture. Sometimes I’ve adopted the world’s ideals over what God says. What about you? Have you ever felt like Jell-O? It’s quite easy to succumb to conformity, and like Jell-O, the longer you stay conformed the harder it is to “undo.” We conform though our speech, our deeds, and even the way we dress. We even conform to the world’s view of money, purity in relationships, and how we raise our children.
God knew believers would face these pressures, so He inspired the Apostle Paul to write these words in Romans 12: “Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Throughout Scripture, God always required and commanded that His people be set apart (Leviticus 18:1-5). There should be a difference between those who know Him and those who do not. We are Christ’s ambassadors, entrusted with taking His message of reconciliation to the world (2 Corinthians 5:20). Above all else our proper response to the mercy and grace we received through our salvation should prompt us to WANT to live a life that honors Him.
I don’t know about you, but the times when I’ve struggled with sin the most are the times when I’ve tried to “be good” on my own. I’d tell myself “OK, Benjamin, this is the last time I’m doing X, or saying X, or going X,” and then before I know it I’d be right back at square one. Simply correcting worldly behavior without changing the heart and mind will fall short every time. In that passage, Paul states that living a non-conformed life, a life of courage, takes a transformed mind, a mind totally changed by the Spirit. Once you have repented and put your faith in Jesus you have passed from death to life. Your old self is dead and you have become new. I firmly believe that the renewing of our minds is a continual conscious process. The world is continually and purposefully forcing us into its mold so we must continually and purposefully allow the spirit to renew and redirect our minds.
The first step in this process is BROKENNESS. We must feel the gravity of our sin and that we really need His salvation. Secondly, we must be willing to BARE all and be honest before the God who ALREADY knows our shortcomings. Only then can we be made whole. Sometimes I’ve had to share my struggles with another brother and be held accountable. We must care more about our growth then our reputation. When we live a life set apart, God can truly use us. When we live a life set apart, we can expect God’s divine direction, His will, in our lives. If you are living in conformity, do not despair. Our God has overcome the world and we are more than conquerors through Him. He forgives and restores. Always remember that we are a chosen people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9). We have been called out of darkness into His light. His Spirit is within us, and we are no longer slaves to the sin that once held us hostage. We don’t have to conform any longer. Though we may feel like it sometimes, we are not, and do not have to be, like Grandma’s Jell-O.
Watson discusses if the United States is a Christian country
Posted on the Truth in the Game blog on July 7, 2016
From my youth I have subconsciously and rather naively believed the narrative that America was a Christian nation without truly unpacking this claim. As I’ve entered my adult life, becoming more aware and emotionally invested in the trajectory of my homeland, this faulty view has led to my current internal disillusionment with the moral decline of this so-called Christian country. With each wayward step I find myself getting frustrated, and at times baffled at what it claims to be right. And wrong. I’ve come to realize that my problem is not with America, though. It is with my flawed expectations of America.
While many of America’s inhabitants are Christians it should not be labeled a Christian country. There is no such thing. In truth it has always been a nation whose spoken allegiance to God conflicted with its tangible observable deeds. Such a discrepancy is a warning to all of us as we struggle for consistency between our words and our actions. In spite of a strong Christian influence still present today, it was founded on rebellion and built with the unconscionable toil of human property. At this very hour it sanctions the annual murder of 1 million innocent unborn and creates then recreates its own definitions of fundamental essential and socially beneficial norms. While responsible for a great deal of goodwill throughout the world, it continues to tacitly approve and even actively pursue removal and censorship of all vestiges of biblical Christianity from its view.
Though a noble call to action, I am convinced that the critical juncture of American history we now face is not so much about fighting to turn our country BACK to the nostalgia of our “Christian” past as it is to continue the fight and advance the charge given by Christ 2,000 years ago to simply make disciples. We are not alone in this endeavor, as billions throughout the ages, including countless Americans since the first settlers arrived in Jamestown, have carried this banner. No matter the situation we must remember that the invisible is more profitable than the visible and that this world, this republic, is passing away, but God’s Word remains and His Kingdom is everlasting. The culture wars invite us to take sides, losing sight of our primary goal and forgetting our primary citizenship as we scramble to discover what color we will endorse in the coming election and decipher the latest court decision. While I love this country and would rather be in no other land, it is not my true home. Those whose citizenship is in heaven are strangers, pilgrims passing through.
An improper view of our present state breeds COMPETITION WITH but not COMPASSION FOR those we disagree with. We desperately need an intermingling of both as we live and engage with those around us. As difficult as this may be, my assignment is not to win arguments for the sake of being right, it is to present the truth before men with the hope of winning souls. I fail when instead of viewing my neighbor’s sin as an affront to GOD as is mine, I am angered solely because it feels like an affront to ME and MY convictions. My greatest challenge is for my anger to be righteous instead of selfish.
As American history unfolds before us, I should not be stunned or perplexed when those who are lost continue meandering in the dark blinded by the god of this age, unable to see or understand the light of the gospel and the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). I should expect such opposition while simultaneously clinging to these expectations instead. That those who claim Christ strive to humbly live accordingly. That these aliens and foreigners work to store up heavenly treasures as much as they covet earthly success. That these ambassadors let their light shine for His glory, not their own. That the children of God mimic their Father’s character, a tainted duplication of His loving-kindness, justice, and righteousness. And that we remember that as proud as we are to be Americans, we are eternally part of a global royal nation that spans race, creed, and time.
THIS nation, while in the world, is not conformed by the world, so that its peculiarity is a testimony of its transformation from what it once was to what by grace it now is. This is the same hope we have for America. That through our brief lives we may play a role in God’s redemptive story and serve as a witness to the heart-changing power of His Spirit on earth. We can never let discouragement and disappointment from unmet expectations weaken our resolve and dissuade us from playing our part in what God is doing right here, at this very moment, in America.
“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)
Watson discusses North Carolina’s House Bill 2
Posted on the Truth in the Game blog on April 26, 2016
Fear is a powerful motivator. It has forced me to be silent when I would rather speak and to shout loudly when I would rather sit in silence. It seizes my heart and floods my mind with myriad scenarios of the possible aftermath to my comments or consequences of my actions.
I’ve contemplated North Carolina’s House Bill 2 for some time now. I’ve read it in its entirety, in an attempt to understand its motive as well as the visceral contempt its detractors have so prominently displayed. I’ve watched as businesses have vacated the state, sports leagues have made threats, and entertainers have refused to perform. Conversely, I’ve seen multitudes of citizens across the country stand in adamant support of this legislation. I’ve heard accusations of intolerance and discrimination and speculation about probability of future sexually motivated crimes or lack thereof. I’ve listened to the passionate interviews from Americans who identify as straight, gay, or transgendered, which illuminate the diverse views of not only this bill, but also the overarching issue of gender and sexual identity. While the new law encompasses a few different issues, the stipulations for use of single-sex multiple occupancy bathroom and changing facilities have become a lightning rod in what has emerged as another battlefield in America’s increasingly prominent reevaluation of its definitions and ideals about sexuality, discrimination, and “equal rights.” Since the announcement I really haven’t wanted to discuss the specifics and intricacies because today’s politically correct environment is too toxic to have a discussion in. Such an effort appears futile. Many times conversation becomes mired in false, naive, and underdeveloped arguments, such as claims that gender and race are analogous when that could not be further from the truth. Honestly, I’ve been at a lost for words.
In today’s climate, as shown by the speedy reactions of various entities, we are forced to pick a side. Many times, unfortunately, it’s the side we hope is right. And by right I do not mean moral or logical, as it should. I mean the side that will protect us from public backlash and probable financial loss. The side that places us in the perceived majority, the middle of a strong current where we can ride the wave of “progress.” We feel the tug to be on what some coin as “the right side of history.” The subsequent fear of conformity can feel like fire in our throats at times. Tolerance and inclusivity has somehow turned into the very thing it claims not to be and is quite often characterized by name-calling and accusations of bigotry and hatred. Although it sometimes does, fundamental disagreement does not NECESSARILY mean hate is involved. But the immense fear of being associated with these smartly and strategically used labels forces many to choose to be silent at a time when it matters most.
What a precarious position we are in. It is easy to offer personal anecdotes when digesting bills and laws like this. But my position has to be founded on a foundation more solid than my experience or my feelings. It’s not about MY daughters, MY sons, MY wife, or even ME feeling violated, uncomfortable, or threatened in the bathroom, although these are definitely reasons enough. It’s not about how obvious it is to ME that the privacy of men and women should be a given when using these types of facilities. It’s not even about the many times I’ve “harmlessly” shared a bathroom facility with an individual who unbeknownst to me was transgendered or transitioning. Determining right and wrong is not about the depth of sincerity of those who desire their lifestyle be affirmed and legalized or what they hope that validation will provide their self-concept. As honest as these desires may be, self-fulfillment and public endorsement does not always determine the validity of an action.
What’s disheartening is that we are buying the lie that feelings trump all else and that how one feels can only be accepted and celebrated instead of addressed and challenged.
As the fallout from North Carolina’s House Bill 2 continues to billow out, I contemplate how it fits in the larger picture of society. If our only reason for determining our social norms is popular opinion, we will continue to reset them with each new generation. We simultaneously live in the past and the future. There will be generations after us as there have been before. There is nothing new under the sun. Civilizations rise and they set, their great cities turning to dust and their once fabulous new ideas relegated to a page in a high school history book. Logic, common sense, and morality that are not based on absolute truth will always at some point seem antiquated, archaic, or even abhorrent. God’s Word is the only absolute truth given to mankind and any individual, community, or nation that turns its back on it can expect to ultimately fail. Change IS good. But only that which upholds or institutes HIS prescription for life, freedom, and equality. HB2 is not an isolated issue. It is one stop on the track, as we steamroll in our relativism. Many who support it are not malicious, and many who oppose are not heathens. But like paper currency, of little value without its collateral backing, morals without God eventually succumb to similar perils and are rendered useless. The logical conclusion of a land where we all do what is right in our own eyes, unchecked, is lawlessness, chaos, and even death.
The simplest, most basic form of decision-making is basing decisions on how they do or don’t affect “me.” When we justify or condemn laws and creeds because of the level of anticipated effects on “my life,” we miss the point. Whether in my own life or that of another’s, sin always has macro and micro consequences, and we all have a decision to continue living in it habitually or surrendering ourselves and turning to Him.
I do not claim to understand the confusion, isolation, distress, pride, or any other emotion of those who struggle with gender dysphoria, or those in their families who support them. Because of this, as easy as it may be to do, it is not my place to speculate about their motives and character, or insult them for their lifestyle choices. Like me, these individuals are loved and valued by their Creator. Like me, they deserve to earn a living, enjoy friendships, and live free from slurs, disparaging remarks, and bodily harm. And like me, they stand condemned and separated from a Holy God except for the covering of the atoning blood of His Son, applied on their behalf through repentance and faith. Like me, they were created for a purpose, male and female, to be an earthly depiction of the spiritual union between Christ and His bride, His body, the church. As important as genitalia are in determination, gender roles do not stop at anatomy. They were created as complementary differences that should be celebrated, embraced, and encouraged. They build strong families, healthy communities, and ordered nations. There is great beauty in masculinity and femininity that fully blooms in the sacrificial oneness of marriage. To accept the blurring thereof is to deny and tacitly reject God’s design and to counter what He has created as a reflection, albeit imperfect because of our humanity, of His immense love for us. This is the danger we face, not only with this issue but with any issue, when our feelings, genetic predispositions, and desires take precedence over His principles.
This is the crux of the matter. If I believe I am my own God, I am within all rights to do, say, and believe as I please. But if I believe I was created, then He who did so is God and I am not. And my duty is to obey Him, for He knows what is best for those to whom he gave life.
I’m not in favor of any legislation to spite or demean others. However, I am in favor of legislation that governs human activity in a way that would be pleasing to the Lord, while still understanding that a heart that seeks to live for Him is infinitely more desirable than forced submission.
Compassion is the gift of those who have been forgiven, for they know the filth from which they continue to be rescued. Love is not love if it sacrifices truth. And that truth must not be held hostage by fear.
May we proceed in this arena and all others accordingly.