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Patriots share candid, personal stories about racism on upcoming 'All Access' special

The sitcom version of a kid's Saturday morning ritual is sacred. It means sleeping in, a big bowl of cereal and maybe some cartoons.

Growing up Black in a predominantly white neighborhood in Georgia, this American illusion splinters as Jonathan Jones and his family pick up KKK flyers left in their driveway on multiple Saturday mornings, a stark reminder of the ways in which his country, even his own neighbors, see him and people like him as less than.

Jones is among 21 Patriots players, coaches and scouts who joined roundtable discussions about racism in America, encounters with police officers and where we go from here on a special episode of Patriots All Access, airing on June 26 on WBZ at 7 p.m. EST.

For many of his teammates, this is the first time they heard Jones talk about the explicit hatred he dealt with, including David Andrews, who grew up just an hour away. Their experiences in Georgia could not be more different.

While Jones had no choice but deal with racism by its very nature, Andrews spent his formative years in football locker rooms, where boys, teens and men work together for a common goal, regardless of race.

"I think growing up in sports and in locker rooms, you're just around different people from different backgrounds so much that you have a misperception of the world," Andrews said. "The way you see the world from the locker room perspective and growing up in sports … it's not really how the world works on the outside."

In the wake of the murders of unarmed black people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and more in recent months, conversations like this have been happening out in the open. Black Lives Matter protests popped up around the world in solidarity, as the United States again reckons with its past and present.

Jakob Johnson moved to the United States five years ago from Germany, and while he knew he was "a little different" growing up, it wasn't until he came to the States that he experienced outright discrimination for the first time.

"The fact that I could be discriminated or treated badly because of the color of my skin, that didn't happen until I came over here," Johnson said. "I've always had an eye on racial issues over here in America because it was just such a stark contrast to what I was used to."

These experiences are not relegated to the South, either. Scout Ronnie McGill has been with the Patriots for 10 years, and in his first years with the team, he brought Patriots players to the hospital for physicals in Boston. A white woman sat next to them, put her purse down and asked if he was going to steal it. In shock, McGill didn't know how to respond.

"That was my second year up here that I really found out that racism goes across the Mason-Dixon line," McGill said. "There's no place where it won't go."

Over the hour-long conversations, filmed on June 23, Black Patriots players share their stories, including encounters with police officers. Deatrich Wise Jr. details the ways in which he slows down when being pulled over – his movements, his words – to signal he is not a threat as a tall, muscular Black man. As a teenager, Brandon Copeland was pulled over seven times, each within a minute from his house. James White, despite being the son of law enforcement officers, still had "the talk," too.

Ja'Whaun Bentley attended a mostly white high school, and like so many Black men, he grew used to editing his behavior to appear non-threatening in order to avoid his name becoming a headline or a hashtag.

"As kids, you're taught how to not be a threat. A big black dude arriving just in random spots, you kind of wave and smile just to make sure [you signal] I'm cool. I'm a nice guy," Bentley said. "You wave and smile just to kind of ease everybody's nerves … Our normal has not always been normal. It has never been normal."

As Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio listened to the examples, both on the call and in recent months and said he is ashamed that these moments are happening.

"As someone who's white, to hear these types of stories, which I would say over the last few months is something I've heard more of, it's embarrassing," Caserio said. "You hear this, and you're embarrassed at the ignorance that exists."

There is a through-line from the past to this current moment. The issues are systemic. Jones spoke about the impact of education, and the lack thereof, for enslaved people that still lingers today.

"Education is important," Jones said. "But when your great grandmother wasn't allowed to read, it was illegal to read, then she can't teach her daughter, your grandmother, to read, who then can't teach your mother."

For Ben Watson and Matthew Slater, two Patriots players who are often asked to speak publicly, being "articulate" is loaded with history and defying expectations as Black men, and while both said most people mean it as a compliment, it is much more complicated than that.

"They could truly be complimenting you and saying, 'Man, I really like what you said. You spoke it in a way that I understood it,'" Watson said. "That's great, but in a larger context of American history, that word 'articulate' has been used to say, you're an anomaly. You're an anomaly from the others. You're not like them. You're different, and there's almost a connotation there that you're accepted and you're okay because you've transcended your race."

In this moment, where the world is still mostly on pause due to COVID-19, people have not been able to look away or turn a blind eye to the injustices Black people have endured since the country's inception. Inside Linebackers Coach Jerod Mayo said in conversations with his mother that the onus can no longer fall solely on Black people.

"She said real change won't happen until white families are having hard conversations around the dinner table," Mayo said.

On that same note, while the weeks leading up to this conversation have been painful, Devin McCourty said the fact that discussions like this were happening in their locker room, in homes across the country, is reason to be hopeful that change is coming.

"As hard as this year has been for everybody, you kind of see maybe there's some light at the end of the tunnel," McCourty said. "Look at what we're doing right now."

Patriots All Access will air this conversation this Friday, June 26 at 7 p.m. on WBZ. You won't want to miss it.

The Patriots All Access roundtable discussion is made up of 21 Patriots players, coaches and scouts: David Andrews, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Justin Bethel, Brandon Bolden, Steve Cargile, Nick Caserio, Brandon Copeland, DeMarcus Covington, Julian Edelman, Brian Hoyer, Jakob Johnson, Jonathan Jones, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, Ronnie McGill, Derek Rivers, Matthew Slater, Ben Watson, James White, and Deatrich Wise Jr.

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