When news of the Charleston church shooting first broke last week, Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell took to Twitter to ask for prayers for his city. Maxwell, a native of North Charleston, South Carolina, was obviously concerned about his family back home. Maxwell didn't have to time to be with his family right away since he had to finish up the last day of Philadelphia's mandatory minicamp, but he's since been able to travel back home.
Maxwell recently spoke to Robert Klemko of The MMQB about his reaction to the tragic event that took place.
"At first you feel shock. Anger. Disgust. Then the next question is, what do we do about it?" he said. "How do we stop things like this from happening?"
The answer isn’t clear. Dylann Roof’s purported manifesto is something more sinister and more intelligent than the ramblings of a madman. The violent fracture of Charleston’s peace has spidered into familiar debates over gun control and the appropriate place for the Confederate flag. Maxwell wonders if the same symbols and words that alienated him as a boy enabled Roof’s development into a killer.
"You experience being called the n-word growing up," Maxwell says, "and you just say, alright, cool. Until I left Charleston, I just figured that was a part of every community in America. I think the racism in the South is just more in your face.
"I remember just about every car had the Confederate flag when I was young. It’s something they’re proud of. If those things are still flying, how far have we really come? They want to say, it’s not hate, it’s heritage. But hate is the most important part of that heritage."
In Charleston there’s a former slave market turned museum in the historic district around King Street. Maxwell recalls his earliest views on race being shaped by school field trips.
"Teachers took us down there and showed us the old slave auction site," he says. "They would say, this is where your ancestors were sold. That would be a field trip. It’s good to educate, but we were too young. It gave us an inferiority complex. It’s always good to know where you came from, but we don’t know where we came from. King Street is not where we came from."
He also spoke to Rana Cash of Sporting News.
Why not set a trend?" Maxwell said. "They are trendsetters. Why not set a trend where it's cool to love another? That's where we've got to start."
Maxwell is entering his fifth NFL season, having spent the first four with the Seahawks. Now 27, he's established enough to comfortably share his thoughts about issues on and off the field. That includes racial tensions in America, even in North Charleston where police officer Michael Slager has been indicted on a murder charge in the fatal shooting of Walter Scott.
"It has taken me until this year and last year to really understand I have a voice with the position I'm in," Maxwell said. "I'm in a leadership position. Everybody doesn't have to talk, but if you have an opinion, you should share it."
That's exactly what Maxwell is doing today when he compares the harassment and persecution of Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11 to what he beleives is happening today to African-Americans.
"That's what it feels like," he said, "like it's OK to kill African-Americans and nothing is being done about it."
It's why he's trying to spread a message of hope, not hate. On June 27, Maxwell is holding a previously planned charity fundraiser in Charleston. The "Bowling with the Stars" event was organized to raise money for back-to-school shopping. He'll still do that, but he'll now also donate money to the families of the shooting victims.
There are no quick fixes, but Maxwell is doing what he can. It's too close to home not to.
"I don't have the answers," he said. "We have to spread love. As black people, start loving each other. I'm not talking about a movement or black power. I'm talking about just treating everyone like you want to be treated and respecting each other."