Inside the Panthers

Carolina Panthers RB Fozzy Whittaker on race relations: ‘Change is on the horizon’

Carolina Panthers running back Fozzy Whittaker smiles as he runs through a drill during practice on Dec. 17, 2015.
Carolina Panthers running back Fozzy Whittaker smiles as he runs through a drill during practice on Dec. 17, 2015. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Add Carolina Panthers running back Fozzy Whittaker to the list of athletes joining the ongoing national discussion about race relations and responsible policing.

Whittaker spoke at a Thursday night panel at the University of Texas, his alma mater, about last week’s shootings and ways to prevent future violence. Joining Whittaker were former Texas teammate Emmanuel Acho, former Olympic sprinter Natasha Hastings, and several members of the Austin Police Department, including Chief Art Acevedo.

Acho organized and hosted the panel, which was broadcast through Facebook Live.

The discussion was largely in response to three shootings last week. First, Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota were killed by police and had videos of their deaths go viral over social media. Then, on July 7, a gunman in Dallas fatally shot five police officers at an anti-police rally.

The panel came a day after four NBA stars – LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, and Carmelo Anthony – opened the ESPY Awards with a condemnation of police violence.

Thursday was Whittaker’s chance to join the conversation.

“Change is on the horizon,” he said.

But Whittaker acknowledged him speaking out is not enough.

“Having the platform that I have … is just a start,” he said. “You have to actually see and actively see us engage with police officers, engage with what we talk about, or else talk is talk.”

As an athlete of color, Whittaker said he has a responsibility to ease community relations as best he can, both in Texas and in Charlotte. He also said that one of the biggest roadblocks to ending police violence is stereotypes, or, “painting with a broad brush.”

That goes both ways, he said. He agreed that the perception of all black people as dangerous or troublesome is damaging, but also that police officers as a whole shouldn’t be treated poorly because of the actions of certain bad ones.

Whittaker ended the panel by encouraging all people to come together and seek peace.

“It’s not just on the black people to do that,” Whittaker said. “It’s on the police officers, which we’re already starting to see now.

“It just goes back to we all have to be better – all of us.”

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