NASHVILLE – Since the time he first started playing football, Ryan Tannehill always loved and respected his teammates, no matter their race.
But in years past, the Titans quarterback sometimes hesitated to speak up on the Black Lives Matter movement, and during a Zoom conference call on Wednesday, he acknowledged it's something he regrets.
Now in his ninth NFL season, Tannehill wants to use his voice to make a difference.
And he's doing just that.
Tannehill posted a lengthy social media post on the subject last week, and during a lengthy conversation with reporters on Wednesday, he was passionate about his feelings, and where he wants to see things moving forward across the world.
"It is kind of like enough is enough," Tannehill said. "It's something that my eyes have been opened to the privilege I've lived with my whole life just because of the color of my skin. The situations my friends, my (black) teammates, guys I love, (situations) they've been put in throughout their lives because of the color of their skin, the things they've had to deal with which no man, no people, should have to deal with."
Looking back, Tannehill said he wishes he would have been more outspoken back in 2016 when he was teammates in Miami with ex-Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, who took up the protest started by Colin Kaepernick.
Stills knelt during the National Anthem and did so in the face of criticism and even death threats.
"Do I feel great about that – that I didn't just fully on board and support initially? No. Do I wish I would have been known more and been more supportive back in 2016? Yes, 100 percent," Tannehill said. "But we all make mistakes and we all have to live and learn and experience to grow, and I feel like I have done a lot of growing over the past four to five years not only in this area but in a lot of areas and I hope to use what I've learned and to continue to educate myself and continue to learn and continue to try and push for change and make a difference."
Tannehill said Stills told him personal stories of getting ripped out of a car by police with his dad for no reason. He's also talked with other black teammates about things they've dealt with, and it's saddened him.
Tannehill said he's learned past protests surrounding the anthem "wasn't about the flag, it wasn't about the anthem, it wasn't about our country – it's about the justice and raising awareness and getting peoples' attention."
"(Kenny) was able to educate me about a lot of it, and I am very thankful for a lot of the conversations we've had along the way," Tannehill. "It's an issue that affects millions of people, and the unfortunate thing about it is if you're a white person and you don't have to deal with it on a daily basis and you are not put in those situations it is easy to just go about your life and not recognize it. With this (Black Lives Matter) push, I think more and more people are having an awakening to the situation and how deep it really is, how many layers of injustice there are to it with the court system and policing and on a day-to-day basis. This push was the straw that broke the camel's back – it's been happening for far too long and I finally got to the point where enough is enough."
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said last week he's had a number of conversations with players in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis, and the protests that have followed across the country.
Tannehill believes education remains a big part in helping the situation improve across the world as it related to racism and social injustice. He's read books on the subject, and looked deeper into serious issues he'd been "naïve" about in the past.
Tannehill said he's had a number of great conversations with black teammates and "it's really shocking what guys have been through."
"Almost every single black guy that I've played with … they've all dealt with something at some point, whether it is with the police or another interaction that is blatant racism," Tannehill said. "It is sickening to me that they have to deal that, and I want it to change. I want everyone to get the justice and the equality they deserve."
Titans safety Kevin Byard and linebacker Rashaan Evans both said on separate conference calls on Wednesday they've appreciated how Tannehill has stepped up and let his voice be heard.
Byard believes the NFL, and sports in general, should provide a great example for the country.
"I think that is the beauty of sports," Byard said. "I've never met a guy in our locker room that I felt like hated me because of the color of my skin. The beauty of the NFL is we … all come from different walks of life and everybody comes from a different part of the country. The beauty of it is the simple fact we can all come together despite our differences to accomplish a common goal.
"Honestly, I feel like the country can take a great lesson from sports and the unity of guys coming from different shades or colors and not really caring about it. When one guy scores a touchdown, the whole team celebrates, it doesn't matter what he looks like. I feel that the game of football is such a game of life and it teaches you so much."
Tannehill, set to begin his second season with the Titans, hopes the world-wide conversation leads to equality "I'd hope we all want."
"We're dealing with a big issue right now that has plagued our country for a long, long time," Tannehill said. "Some really good conversations are going on right now, and I think the progress our country is making is headed in the right direction slowly but there's still a long, long way to go. This is not a short-lived awareness thing -- it is something that is going to have to go on a long time to get to where we need to be with justice and equality.
"I just have to be true to who I am, believe and support what I know is right, and if there's people that want to push back and go the other direction, that is on them. I am going to fight for what I believe is right."
NASHVILLE -- fdfd
A look back at QB Ryan Tannehill's 2019 Pro Bowl season that saw him complete 201-of-286 passes (70.3%) for 2,742 yards, 22 touchdowns, and an NFL-leading 117.5 passer rating. (Photos: Donald Page).