How Jacoby Brissett continues to inspire the Colts in the fight against racial inequality

Joel A. Erickson
Indianapolis Star
View Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — The first night of Jacoby Brissett’s bye week was spent on mission.

All of his Mondays have been so far this season. Fully intent on making good on their preseason promise to make an even bigger impact in the city of Indianapolis, Brissett and the Colts have faithfully volunteered each Community Monday, helping people register to vote, handing out food, talking to kids at the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center.

But Brissett wanted to do something a little different on Monday night. He wanted to learn how to make an even bigger impact. Teaming up with local promoter and community activist Amp Harris, Brissett put together a Zoom call for activism-minded athletes to learn from Dr. Ben Chavis, a civil rights leader who has been working for the cause for six decades.

Former NAACP executive director Benjamin Chavis Jr.,  spoke on a Zoom call Monday night with Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett and local promotor and activist Amp Harris. Brissett wanted to learn how to make a bigger impact in advancing civil rights.

“Everyone who’s on this call is in the fight for the right reasons,” Brissett said in opening up the call. “We come together right now to collaborate ideas and plans, and to hear from somebody who’s been there and done that, who has some of the answers we’re looking for.”

Brissett, who met Harris shortly after he arrived in Indianapolis four years ago, drew together a group of athletes that included a couple of his teammates, a few players from other NFL teams and other sports, and staff members of the Colts organization.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) during the first half of the NFL week 5 game at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020. The Browns won, 32-23.

Chavis opened by talking about his history; his work as a teenager with Martin Luther King, his wrongful conviction and imprisonment as the oldest member of the Wilmington 10, his leadership of the NAACP and his role as the national director of the Million Man March.

The long-time civil rights leader also opened by affirming the responsibility of prominent Black athletes to be leaders in the fight for racial equality and social justice.

“Part of the tradition of being a successful athlete has also been the tradition of speaking out for freedom, justice and equality,” Chavis said. “What you see today in 2020 has historical precedent.”

Chavis mentioned boxers Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali as examples, along with sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics to support black power and human rights.

An athlete’s platform and the symbolism of gestures like the one made by Smith and Carlos, or taking a knee during the national anthem, Chavis said, carry a great deal of weight.

In addition to the Colts’ Community Monday initiatives, Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich knelt during the anthem for the first four games of the season, intending to bring attention to the issue of systemic racism and injustice, as well as the need for white leaders to take a more active role in speaking out against racism.

“Those of us in the Black community have always looked up to our athletes,” Chavis said. “Symbolism in sports is often as important as the act itself.”

But both Chavis and Harris repeatedly encouraged the athletes assembled on the Zoom call to go beyond symbolism and protest, challenging them to learn the political systems that need change and to help kids find a better way out of communities that can lead a life to crime.

Chavis and Harris challenged the athletes present to keep working after the protests were over, to help bring about systemic change and how to help lead team owners and organizations as they continue to get more involved in the issues.

For example, the Colts franchise has made Juneteenth an organizational holiday, created a position for a director of diversity, established an Irsay family scholarship for minority students and supported the Colts players throughout a tumultuous summer.

Chavis encouraged the athletes present to keep guiding the organizations.

“You can serve as the eyes and ears for the owners and the teams,” Chavis said.

Brissett, along with several of the other Colts on the call, has already been playing that role in Indianapolis this year.

A Monday night like this one helps keep them going.

View Comments