Following the killing of five police officers in Dallas by a black man who said he "wanted to kill white people" and two officer-involved shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota last week, Benjamin Watson, one of the NFL's most outspoken athletes, explains what Black Lives Matter means to him.
"At times in my life I've felt that black lives didn't matter to some white people or even some black people. I've even believed the myth that my life somehow wasn't as important as my white classmates, teammates and friends," the Baltimore Ravens tight end wrote in a lengthy Facebook post on Sunday. "Whether we are totally naïve or if we intentionally promote such a message, by listening and watching closely we will easily see that in many ways black lives don't matter."
While many in the Black Lives Matter movement have called for peaceful demonstrations against police shootings of black men, the group is becoming more controversial and seen as divisive for barring non-black students from meetings on college campuses, and for its leaders in New York City and Oakland chanting: "what do we want: dead cops; when do we want 'em: now" and "pigs in a blanket, fry 'em like bacon."
Similarly, former Democratic governor of Maryland and presidential candidate Martin O'Malley was attacked last July for saying: "Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter."
While Americans are divided on social media using either the hashtag #blacklivesmatter or #alllivesmatter, Watson listed examples that reveal the many ways black lives aren't being valued in America.
The athlete cited a litany of concerns that include: the lack of education concerning black history, colorism within the black community, black on black crime, the political stifling of programs to help marginalized black people, biased media coverage, fatherless homes and negative experiences with police as reasons black people have felt their lives don't matter.
He stressed, however, the importance of being intentional in creating interracial bonds, speaking against racism and letting God determine the value of people.
"Black Lives Matter when all lives know their God given, intrinsic worth and realize that men foolishly look on the outward appearance but God looks at the heart. That's when we will no longer let these injustices define us or continue to perpetuate the attitudes, actions, and assumptions that force us to raise our voices and scream about whose lives matter," he wrote. "So historically, and in many ways presently, black lives don't matter, but so what. We make them matter where they don't."
Watson has become a leading voice in the NFL concerning racial tensions after the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, after he robbed a convenience store and wrestled with a cop for his gun. Watson wrote in a Facebook post about America's racial divide as "not a SKIN problem," but "a SIN problem."
The Christian athlete who authored a book called Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race. Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us last year comforted some of his social media followers who were having a hard time hearing about more black lives being taken at the hands of white police officers.
"#PhilandoCastile #AltonSterling I'm weeping. I'm praying," one person tweeted to Watson. "I want to act. I need to be led. Help me."
The football player didn't hesitate to respond.
"Mourn w/ those who mourn," he wrote. "Pray for wisdom, understanding and opportunity to engage/challenge those in your sphere."
After a July 7 Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas ended with a black man fatally shooting five police officers and injuring eight others, Watson said he was praying for the victims' families.
"May God comfort the city of Dallas, these hurting families and the extended family of law enforcement throughout our country. You are appreciated," he wrote on social media. where he also called for prayer. "I humbly ask that those who know the Lord get on their knees with me for the next 5 minutes and pray for our country. We need Him now."
While Watson has spoken a great deal about racial tensions in the country, the husband and father of five has been even more vocal about his Christian faith.
"I would say that one of the hardest things for an athlete and really anybody of any profession is that we create our identity in what we do," Watson said in a previous interview with The Christian Post. "It's been a constant struggle with my athletic career to identify myself as a child of God and understand that His love is unconditional for us, it's not conditional like fans, or coaches, or even myself. Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly for the Lord and not for man because our true identity is in Him. "