The ongoing protests across the United States have reverberated around the world, and among the millions affected is one of Winnipeg’s favourite sports heroes.
Canadian Football Hall of Famer and iconic Winnipeg Blue Bomber Milt Stegall is currently living in Atlanta, Ga., one of the U.S. cities most heavily affected by protests, triggered by the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after he was pinned at the neck by a white Minneapolis police officer.
Stegall, who retired in 2008 after a record-breaking CFL career, told 680 CJOB he and his family are safe, but it’s been a difficult time, especially as a Black parent.
“My older son Chase, he’ll be 16 in November. He’s asking questions. He wants to know what’s going on,” said Stegall.
“We’re trying to answer his questions the best we can, but sometimes there are no answers… which is unfortunate with this situation we’re dealing with.
“We’re hoping individuals who are in place to make decisions are going to make the right decisions, but if people think this is going to change overnight or over the next 10 years, it’s not going to happen… we have a lot of work to do.”
Stegall said he’s currently teaching his son to drive, and while that’s something he, as a parent, can control — for now — he’s nervous about the future.
“The one thing that’s difficult to do, is how do we teach him to act if he’s stopped by that racist cop? There’s still a bunch of them out there, and I hate to say that,” he said.
“Whatever they say, do, you do. You don’t make any knee-jerk movements, you don’t question them, you don’t let your pride get in the way.”
Stegall said he was inspired by the words of Atlanta rapper and activist Killer Mike, whose impassioned televised plea on the weekend encouraged protesters to take political action to make change.
“This is a man who comes from the dirt — he understands Atlanta like very few people do. This is an individual who understands what Atlanta was before and what Atlanta is now.
“You have to have respect for him. He’s an activist, a rapper, and he understands the roots of ATL before it became what it is right now.”
Stegall said the key for people here in Winnipeg — and around the world — is just to educate themselves on the issues that are facing African Americans and to have sympathy for the plight of others.
“I hate when people hear somebody say, ‘Black Lives Matter’, and their response is, ‘All Lives Matter’,” he said.
“That’s not what we’re saying. We know all lives matter, but we just need to be considered more in the conversation. We just want to matter. We want some empathy, and we want folks to understand that we have problems too. We have concerns, and we just want people to hear us.”
Stegall isn’t the only U.S.-born Winnipeg sports star speaking out about the situation in his home country.
Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler, a native of Minnesota, tweeted his support for the protests on the weekend.
“Growing up outside of Minneapolis I always felt sheltered from racism. That’s because I was — most people I grew up with looked like me. I never had to be scared when I stopped at a traffic light or saw the police in public. My kids will never know that fear either,” he said.
On Friday, former Winnipeg police chief Devon Clunis — the first Black person to lead a Canadian police service — told 680 CJOB that the incident that sparked the protests, the killing of George Floyd, was deeply disturbing.
“We’re not trained to treat somebody in that situation in that manner,” he said.
“There’s just no way that’s right. There’s no universe in which someone can say that’s proper technique.”
Clunis said he understands the frustration protesters are feeling, but doesn’t like to see people tearing down their own communities, which will now take significant time to rebuild.
“In spite of all the frustration and anger that they’re feeling, (I hope) they can still find a positive way to express that because this is only putting the community further behind.”