In the midst of his crazy schedule of starting the 2016-17 NFL season with a new team (the Baltimore Ravens), helping his wife Kirsten raise their five kids, running his non-profit organization (One More), promoting his new book (Under Our Skin), and being a sought-after voice of reason in America’s current racial tensions, my friend Benjamin Watson was kind enough to take a few minutes to chat about God, football, abortion, and race in America today, for our Turning Point blog interview series. Once on the phone, we chatted for almost an hour, so due to length it will be posted in three parts. Please make sure you tune into our social media over the next few weeks to catch the future links and read it in it’s entirety! For now, enjoy Part One below:
TPPRC: What does it mean to you to be pro-life? Why are you pro-life?
BW: For me, pro-life is more encompassing than simply the abortion issue. It’s really more of a complete worldview. Pro-life is: being for people who are in sex-trafficking, or people who are in danger from persecution, or being for people who are stricken with poverty or illnesses, or whatever it may be. Just having a respect for life in general to me is pro-life. Obviously, when we talk about the political arena, it has to do with abortion, but I think if you are someone who cares about life period, then you have to care about it from conception all the way up to death. A lot of times, the folks on the margins are the ones that suffer the most, so the babies that are unborn, and the elderly, are the ones that will be cast aside. To me being pro-life means that you hold all life very dear and you understand that all life was created by God and that because of that, life has internal, intrinsic value, whether it’s capable of living on its own at that point or whether it is capable of living on its own at the end of its life. All the way through the spectrum, I believe life has value because it’s created in the image of God.
TPPRC: The choice of whether or not to have kids, and the option of abortion, are issues that affect everyone- rich or poor, young or old, famous or not. You are uniquely public about those topics, but do NFL players ever talk about heavy issues like this amongst each other? If so, what seems to be the consensus among them?
BW: I would say that in my experience, having been in the NFL locker room for going on 13 years now, it runs the gamut. Just like any other workplace, you have people who don’t like to talk about issues like this, and they never bring them up. And then you have guys that do. I think a lot of times when things happen in the news, it sparks conversations – whether it’s ISIS, or the Planned Parenthood videos, the election process, the Presidential race, or whatever it is. We don’t always agree when it comes down to something like abortion, and it’s a topic that doesn’t specifically come up that often, but a lot of times in one-on-one conversations, you kind of get to know where people stand. You’ve got guys that consider themselves Conservative and pro-life, and you’ve got guys that consider themselves Liberal and pro-choice, and it kind of goes back and forth. The great thing about football, I’ve found, is that you’d be surprised that there’s really no topic that’s off-limits. You will hear people talk about everything. People always say, “You don’t talk about religion or politics,” but we talk about it all. The best thing is that, after we have the conversation, even if we don’t agree, we know we have a job to do and we get out there and do our job. What I love is that in most of the situations I have been in, not all of them, but most, even if we sometimes talk abrasively to each other, we still have love for each other. Past that, now that we have social media, there are people who are comfortable weighing in on topics, that are near and dear to them, and some people who aren’t. There’s some guys that I know for a matter of fact, that are believers or have views that I agree with, but they don’t want to talk about it in a public forum. One-on-one they’ll talk about it, but Twitter, Facebook, or authoring a book about a polarizing topic? They don’t want to touch it. And then there are other guys who are comfortable saying, “This is how I feel…” and putting it out there and knowing that everybody isn’t going to agree with them. That’s a kind of a personal decision that people who are in the public eye have to make.
TPPRC: It seems like you fall in line with those that aren’t afraid of it. Do you ever receive criticism for your outspoken conservative positions or for being a Christian? How do you deal with it?
BW: I wouldn’t say that I’m not afraid of it, because even going back to when I first wrote the stuff about Ferguson on Facebook, and I ended it talking about the Gospel, there was a part of me that was thinking, “Man, I’m representing the team and the NFL and my family, and what if I get some pushback from it or some flack?” You think of all these scenarios, and then it’s like hold on, if you’re speaking truth, we can expect to receive some sort of persecution for it. And it still doesn’t mean that you’re not afraid, it just means that I decided that you know, if the spirit of God has prompted me to say something, I’m gonna trust in God and say it. I want to be as truthful and loving with everything I say when it comes to these types of things that hit so deeply in people. I won’t say I’m not afraid, and I will say that I’ve received some flack for some of the things I’ve said, but I don’t read all of the comments all the time. Sometimes I’ll see something negative or sometimes my wife will get upset that somebody said something. But the overwhelming thing that I’ve experience is the support of many people who are believers. And even the people who aren’t believers, they are people who can appreciate a different view. The one thing we’ve lost in our country, which I don’t know that we ever really had it, is learning how to respectfully disagree with each other. Now, if someone doesn’t agree with you, then we just shut ‘em off and we don’t really want to talk to them, and we go off and say, “They’re a bigot, they have no compassion, they’re not tolerant”. Those are all the catchwords we throw out, instead of saying, “You know I don’t agree with you, but I applaud the fact that you’re standing up for your beliefs and you’re doing it in a way that is trying not to condemn other people, but that you talk about what you believe.” Though, it has really been (positively) overwhelming to hear support from people that are Christians.
I told Ben that what he said reminded me of two things. First is a quote by Roosevelt, where he says that “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.” Also, the idea of tolerance, and the fact that this country has got the idea of tolerance so backwards. Tolerance has become “Agree with me,” because if you don’t automatically agree with someone, you are immediately labeled “intolerant”. But in reality, disagreement is actually a requirement of tolerance, because if we agree, tolerance becomes superfluous.
Remember to tune in next week for Part Two!