When Houston Texans receiver Kenny Stills arrived at Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's home in July to protest the police killing of Breonna Taylor, he knew he'd be leaving in handcuffs.
Stills told Cameron Wolfe of ESPN that he and the 86 others who were taken into custody were warned they would likely be arrested for their demonstration. He said the experience of being arrested, while unjust in his case, was "beautiful" because it allowed him to commiserate with others who have had similar stories:
"I will never, I'm not gonna encourage other people to get arrested, but I think obviously getting in good trouble is a totally different thing. But also, having the experience of getting arrested, put in the cop car, going through being processed and put in jail. Eating a meal there, seeing the attitude of law enforcement on the inside. There, we're locked up in handcuffs and officers are walking around with shotguns and trying to do things to like stare us down and intimidate us, and we're like, bro, we got arrested peacefully. None of us had weapons, we were sitting on the lawn and you guys are walking around with shotguns, trying to instigate. Like just give us some water, let us go to the bathroom, you know what I mean.
...It was a beautiful experience. I think the most free or vulnerable I've felt is being in a jail cell with 22 other men. Obviously with COVID, they didn't have us socially distanced or anything, but it was 22 men in the cell and we end up going around in a circle and introducing ourselves and how we got involved in the movement, what we do and just like a little background about us. The relationships that we built in there, the different types of people, backgrounds, religions, sexual orientations, everything we had; it was what you would think of America.
And one of the more powerful conversations we had was talking about reparations and defunding the police and just us as men going back to our communities and recruiting five or ten or a hundred other guys, and what that would look like if we all brought back five guys from our community and understanding we are all leaders in our own way. ... The most normal I've felt probably in a long time, but especially during COVID, was in a cell with 22 other men."
Louisville authorities are still yet to arrest any of the officers who executed a no-knock warrant on Taylor's home, in the process shooting her several times and killing her after her boyfriend fired a shot at policemen because he thought they were intruders. The city of Louisville has responded to the killing in several ways, including the ban of no-knock warrants, but many feel her death was an injustice and is among the most notable acts of police violence in a year of civil unrest.
Stills said it was "alarming" that Taylor's story was "swept under the rug." She was shot and killed in March, but her name did not reach national headlines until after the police killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day, leading to widespread protests that are still ongoing.
"The police are a bad investment, and as a capitalist society, we should understand good investments and bad investments, and if you're investing [a lot of capital] into something where they're not protecting and serving our people, then we've gotta figure out a way to do it," Stills said. "We're smart enough to do it. It's not a red thing or a blue thing, it's not about politics at all. It's about human beings and people."
Stills added that players and people in positions of power need to be proactive in their actions on top of the protests. He says it's "100 percent" possible that he sits out a game during the 2020 NFL season in protest of ongoing violence against Black Americans.
"I feel like I've done everything in my power to try to bring people together, be reasonable, be calm when I speak, work with the other side, whatever it is that people are trying to ask me to do, I was trying to do. It's interesting now to have this thing, to have this movement be turned up again and people want to get involved and take a knee, and we'll see if this gesture leads to any action," Stills said.
Stills has been proactive in conversations with the NFL about how the league can better handle the topic of racial injustice. The NFL, like the NBA, is predominantly Black but does not have strong representation at the management or ownership levels. There are only three Black head coaches, two Black general managers and no majority Black owners heading into the 2020 season.
Stills says helping minorities get into positions of power will help the league become a better representative of its players. The league instituted several incremental changes to its diversity program earlier this year, including an expansion of the Rooney Rule, which requires teams interview minority candidates for coaching and management positions.