When Trey Hopkins, the Cincinnati Bengals starting center, was just being a regular human being in Corpus Christi, Texas, he was accused of stealing sunglasses from a gas station. Hopkins was just wearing his own sunglasses on his head.
It didn’t matter that Hopkins would eventually graduate from University of Texas as a four-year honor roll student. It didn’t matter that he would eventually make it to the NFL. It didn’t matter that he was with his family.
At that moment, he was just a Black man in America.
According to Hopkins, who spoke with local media after Friday’s practice at Bengals training camp, it wasn’t the only time he was accused of stealing. But he knows that a situation like that can escalate because of things he can’t control.
“A simple misunderstanding like that could end being something much larger,” Hopkins said. “That person could’ve called the police like the police were called for George Floyd for that $20 bill...you have to explicitly not be stealing. You have to be over-the-top with your honesty.”
Hopkins learned that when he was a child. Some of us are still learning it today.
“Even now, if I go home and I leave and I go see my parents and I drive my mom will ask me where is my license and my registration,” Hopkins said. “It could be in the car, she doesn’t want it in the car, she wants it in the front, she wants it in the cupholder. Just so you don’t have the need to reach for the glove compartment, you don’t have the need to reach into your pocket. Just because the off chance you run across the wrong police officer that day. Or you run across someone that’s just having a bad day. And they mistake you reaching for your registration for you reaching for a weapon.”
It’s because of these somber and very real realities that Hopkins and many Bengals players requested to speak with Bengals President and Owner Mike Brown and his family today. The request was made yesterday, and to Hopkins’ elation, Brown and Co. promptly accepted.
“I thought it was great, I thought it was very encouraging for Mr. Brown to meet with us and the whole family this morning,” Hopkins said. “We just wanted to meet with him and talk to him about our ideas, and the fact that ownership would come and listen and be receptive about something that’s just important to their players I think speaks a lot to how much they truly care about the players and the organization as a whole.”
Hopkins made it clear that it wasn’t the first time this offseason that players have had discussions with members of the Brown family on these matters; referencing, specifically, Executive Vice President Katie Blackburn and Director of Strategy and Engagement Elizabeth Blackburn. This was a unique discussion because Mike himself was involved.
“It speaks more to his level of care for the organization and the players for him to take the time—very quickly might I add—to come speak with us because it was just something that we decided we would like to speak to him yesterday, and he made time available very soon, as soon as the next morning. Again, hats off to him and much appreciation and respect.”
Brown met and talked with his players for a little more than an hour, by Hopkins’ estimation, about tangible actions that can help solve the issues Hopkins and many other players face in their everyday lives.
“We all want to find out how can we help,” Hopkins said. “I think it’s very easy for people on the outside to assume that we would want to remove ourselves from this, and it’s quite the opposite...But at the end of the day, the majority of us have dark skin. We’re African American men. And our children, as well as ourselves, have to walk around as African American men. So, it’s not something we can rest on just because we have a little bit of money and say ‘We’ll that’s not us, let’s not get into that, let’s play football’...It’s not something that we can do, it’s not something that we can ignore.”
As far as what will be done, Hopkins mentioned that the Bengals positive community impact committee discussed actions that could be put into place very soon. Such actions would not be needed if the country we live in was truly as great as some of us grew up believing it was.
Hopkins spent 25 minutes talking to the media, much longer than what an average press conference for a player has been this month. None of it was about football.
It’s a privilege to read this article, close your laptop, and carry on with your day, not having to worry about anything about what you just read. It’s a luxury not to worry about being the next Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, or George Floyd. It’s a luxury that players like Hopkins simply can’t afford. And there’s no NFL contract that can buy it for them.
“If you did not grow up having to think about these things then you wouldn’t think about them. That’s why I think the most important thing we can do right now is talk and listen and just communicate; have this open dialogue. Be vulnerable, and be honest. I think that’s the best thing we can do right now to heal this rift.”
We will continue to talk. We will continue to listen. We will continue to communicate. We will continue to have an open dialogue. We will continue to be vulnerable. We will continue to be honest. Because that’s what Trey Hopkins, and everyone else in his position, needs from all of us right now.