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On eve of Super Bowl, athlete’s cite responsibility for social activism

February 4, 2017 GMT

Shut up and play.

It’s been said many times to Brandon Marshall during his 11-year career in the National Football League.

But athletes shouldn’t be quiet about social injustices and other issues that affect their lives and communities, Marshall said Friday at a town hall by The Undefeated, ESPN’s website on sports, culture and race.

The forum, held at the University of Houston as part of Super Bowl week, continued a discussion the San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick sparked by refusing to stand during the national anthem at the start of the NFL season.

“There are times when you have to say to hell with the boundaries, like with social injustice,” said Marshall, a New York Jets wide receiver who supported Kaepernick’s protest against racial inequality and police brutality.

During the forum, five panelists, including the actor Anthony Anderson and former NFL players, addressed activism’s role in entertainment and sports.

Ryan Clark, who played in the NFL for 13 years, said football players have a responsibility to speak out, but they don’t have an obligation because their job is to win games.

“For me, it’s not what people think about me. It’s what do I think about myself,” said Clark, who wore a Kaepernick jersey while appearing on an ESPN show in September. “It’s not OK for me to say nothing with young black men are dying.”

But Willie McGinest, a NFL Network analyst and former player, said it wasn’t enough to talk. He criticized Kaepernick for not voting in November’s election after his highly publicized protest.

“There are more issues on the ballot” than the race for president, McGinest said. “And don’t keep telling what you’re going to do. … I’m still waiting to see what steps he’s going to take. I want to know what your movement is.”

Domonique Foxworth, a NFL alum and players union leader who now writes for The Undefeated, said it doesn’t matter to him what Kaepernick does next. His peaceful protest was significant because it got people talking.

“After Colin takes a knee, 10-year-olds who weren’t thinking about police brutality are now aware of it,” he said.

Said Clark, who is now an analyst for ESPN, “When he knelt, he gave me an opportunity to talk about it.”

Marshall told a New York radio station that Kaepernick was “one of the biggest patriots out there” during the protest. Although he admired Kaepernick’s activism, Marshall said he waited to join the national dialogue until he had a better grip on the issues.

“Sometimes you can slow progress when you talk,” he told an audience filled with University of Houston students. “If you’re not educated on the topic, you need to slow down and educate yourself before you speak.”

His off-the-field work in recent years have revolved around mental health. Marshall learned six years ago that he had borderline personality disorder - a condition that prevented him from regulating his emotions, he said.

He said he is trying to raise awareness of mental illness because there is a stigma around psychiatric disorders among African-Americans.

Anderson, whose ABC sitcom “black-ish” has dealt with mental health, agreed with Marshall.

“In our community, it’s something that’s pushed under the rug,” Anderson said, “We say that’s not us. We just need Jesus. But sometimes you also need professional help.”