Tight end Greg Olsen, the Panthers' nominee for 2015 NFL Man of the Year and a team captain, addressed the media Thursday about the civil unrest in Charlotte this week. Below are excerpts from Olsen's press conference:
On riots he saw on TV last night: "I think like everybody, both here in Charlotte and throughout the country, we all watched with a mixed bag of emotions. The overarching reality that everybody has to realize is, regardless of which side of this discussion you're on, regardless of what you feel about the events that led up to the incident here in Charlotte, the reality is a man is dead. A man who was a father, a son, a man who was a lot of things to many people is dead. What happens is, immediately when these instances occur, is there are two polar sides to the argument. And people are so entrenched with their philosophical beliefs of where they stand, they want to fit the narrative to their own personal beliefs as opposed to just letting the narrative play out and take its course. I think it's dangerous for both sides. No one ever deserves to be shot. No one ever deserves to die. I think that's a pretty harsh reality that I think most people would agree with. While at the same time, I don't feel it's fair to label all police officers as predisposed to target minority populations.
"The problem is those are the two narratives at play right now. And there are not a whole lot of people that find themselves in the middle, and the reality is the middle is where the progress and the change is going to happen. As long as the only voices on this are the two polar extremes, you're going to continue to fan the fumes of hate, you're going to continue to fan the fumes of division. And I think divisive actions are never going to lead to any conclusions. As we've seen through the last few months and now more locally here in our own backyard, you've seen that divide continue to grow larger. I think, like everybody watching last night, knowing that was happening, in some cases right outside your door, is very sad. It's an unfortunate reality that as a community and a whole country is something that we're dealing with."
On teammates living Uptown: "A lot of guys live up here. My brother lives here in Uptown, not far from the Epicenter, where I know a lot of what was happening was taking place. It's hard. You don't ever imagine when you're living in a place like Charlotte, and at a bigger level living in a country like ours, where what you're seeing is almost a war zone atmosphere. Police in battle gear and holding the lines and protestors and police violently clashing. That's not a vision that you see in your mind taking place on our soil. We've seen it now so many times over the last few years. I think it's a sad reality for our country.
"Until you realize the role you play in this situation as opposed to just trying to point out to everybody else the role they played, I think it's very hard to make much progress."
On if game should be played: "I do. A lot of you guys have been in our locker room, and our locker room couldn't be a greater example of guys from different backgrounds, guys with different political beliefs, guys with different home situations growing up in different types of neighborhoods – we have all walks of life that function very harmoniously in a positive workplace environment all working toward a common goal. Able to give and take where I'm at fault, where you're at fault, where we fit into this bigger picture. And I think on Sundays, when people come and watch us, not only do they see that, but to a bigger level, those people in the crowd are from all walks of life. For one day, one afternoon for a few hours, they all come together around the Carolina Panthers. Sport has a tremendous ability to bring people together. Sport has a tremendous ability to give people a break from the action, give people a little bit of reprieve.
"I think for our city now, with the struggles we have going on and the issues at hand, is the game itself as important as the issues at hand? No. But is the game itself a big piece of healing and bringing people together and letting people put their differences aside and start that process of inclusion and being less divisive? I do. It's more of the symbol of what the game is rather than the score, or wins and losses or touchdowns. There's a lot more at play when the NFL takes the field on Sundays – bigger than the game."
On learning from teammates with different backgrounds: "I talked with Thomas (Davis) this afternoon about coming from north Jersey, didn't grow up with a lot of racial tension, didn't grow up with a lot of animosity between various groups of people. Maybe I was limited in my exposure, but I like to believe we lived a pretty standard life. I went to Miami – obviously different groups of people than what I grew up with. What I learned through my roommates is people's backgrounds are sometimes their biggest strengths.
"I've never tried to pass judgement on someone just based on where they came from or what they're home life was like. I've never walked in their shoes. I'm not going to tell Thomas how to raise his kid as an African-American child in this city. That's not my right and that's not my role. I've never lived my life through their shoes. And that's what I said to Thomas today. I am very sympathetic of this movement. I'm very sympathetic when people like Thomas Davis on this team – a very thoughtful, intelligent, African-American man, tells me, 'This is the struggles we face.' I have a tremendous amount of respect for that. I'm not going to tell him how he should feel. But I also believe that while I can be sympathetic to that because I genuinely in my heart am, and I understand that they're coming from a place that I have not been exposed to, at the same time I don't have to be anti the opposition. I don't have to take the complete opposite stance.
"There is a middle ground. I feel like you can be supportive of our law enforcement, you can be supportive of our police department, because the vast, vast majority of them are out there to serve the public and serve it in a noble way. Yes, there are bad apples. There are bad people out there that have ill intentions. That's true – I don't think anyone would necessarily would argue that, whether that's the police force, whether that's football players, teachers, you can go across the board. And I think you can be supportive of our law enforcement while being sympathetic to this movement and the thoughts, ideas and struggles that his community feels they're facing. I feel like there is room to have both. I feel like in that area is where the solution is. That's where the progress is."