CANTON, Ohio – Kenny Easley delivered one last hard hit to the NFL Saturday night during his Hall-of- Fame induction speech.
After thanking God, his family, his high-school coach, Tommy Rhodes; his friends, teammates, his old rival and the Hall of Fame, Easley made a poignant point as sharply and crisply as any knockout hit he delivered during his seven-year career when he said in a clear voice, “Black lives matter. And all lives matter too.’’
He then went on to lament the “carnage’’ of young black men dying around the country simply for “driving or walking the streets while black in America.’’
“Please allow me this moment for a very serious message for which I feel very strongly about,’’ Easley said. “Black lives do matter. And yes, all lives matter, too. But the carnage affecting young black men today, from random violence to police shootings, across the nation has to stop.
“We’ve got to stand up as a country, as black Americans, and fight the good fight, to protect our constitutional right to keep people from dying while driving or walking down the streets for being black in America. It has to stop, and we can do it. And the lessons we learn in sports can help.’’
It was a moment of unexpected impact, like the ones he so often delivered during his playing days. It was a clear appeal too, at a time when many believe young Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers’ quarterback, is being blackballed by the NFL for his refusal to stand last season for the National Anthem as a silent protest against the very same carnage Kenny Easley spoke of Saturday night.
Some may not like what Easley had to say. Some may say he turned a sporting celebration into a political statement. Well, they can say what they want. But understand this – Kenny Easley is in the Hall of Fame today because he laid the lumber on people without fear or favor. In the 1980s, he was the truth on every field he played on.
It’s fitting that he did it one last time as he entered pro football’s most exclusive club.
Not long afterward, Easley’s TelePrompter malfunctioned, and he was forced to cut his speech short. What he intended to say was this:
“…And by the way, congratulations to Title IX for 45 years of outstanding women’s sports in America. Even this very significant piece of legislation took a sizable fight. I also say congratulations to Claire Smith, a black American and the first female to cover a Major League Baseball beat and the first female to be awarded the Spinks Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame Committee.
“RIP to my brother Hall of Famer and all around good guy Cortez Kennedy. Peace and blessings.
“You can put a fork in me. I’m done.’’
As Kenny Easley made clear, not hardly.