In an interview with The Star on Friday, Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters made it clear that while he’s under no obligation to explain why he sits during the national anthem, he thinks those who’ve heckled him and posted angry messages on social media have him all wrong. He also made it clear that he can’t worry about how he is perceived.
In a conversation that was quintessential Peters –– honest, blunt, unapologetic — he spoke about his ongoing protest for the first time since September 2016.
“I ain’t trying to get into a back and forth conversation of me trying to prove that I’m not being disrespectful or that I am being disrespectful toward the American flag,” Peters explained as he sat at his locker. “Man … come on, man. I’m an American, bruh. I’m an African-American that was born in this wonderful country that we all can live in. How about we start all protecting each (expletive) other and come together, you feel me? It will be better for it.”
Peters’ comments, with a handful of teammates looking on, came at the end of one of the most controversial weeks of his short NFL career.
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After sitting on the bench during the anthem on Monday before the Chiefs beat Washington 29-20 on national TV, Peters’ night included giving up two touchdowns –– a rarity for the two-time All-Pro –– and cursing at a heckling fan.
Since then, Peters, 24, has taken note of the steady stream of criticism he has received. He also has grown tired of fielding questions about his anthem protest. He explained himself a year ago, when he stood during the anthem and held up his right fist during the Chiefs’ season opener against the Chargers, and chose to do so after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the anthem to protest the overall oppression of African-Americans, and police brutality.
“It’s gonna be what it’s gonna be, bruh, but I’m just getting tired,” Peters said. “We need to talk about something new. If y’all wanna talk about the protest, man, give my man Colin Kaepernick a call. And he’ll tell you straight up. Because nobody’s hollered at him and asked him.”
And about the raised fist he flashed again before the Chargers game this year? Peters said a year ago that he did it to show he loves being black, and that he “didn’t mean anything (bad) by it.” On Friday, he confirmed that remains the case.
“When the first person raised his fist at the Olympics, right, he was showing that he was proud of who he was,” Peters said, referring to John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s protest at the 1968 Olympics. “That’s all I was doing.”
Some players sat out the national anthem before the Chiefs-Chargers game in Carson, California.
And if all that is not enough of an explanation?
“Nobody’s gotta know my reason why I sit,” Peters said. “Nobody’s gotta know the reason why somebody chooses the religion they choose. Nobody’s gotta know why I eat cereal instead of eating oatmeal in the morning.”
Where some find Peters’ refusal to elaborate distasteful, his teammates, the ones who are with him most of the time, see more to Peters’ story.
To them, Peters is someone about whom people are comfortable making value judgments without knowing the good things he does for young people, and the way he acts around his peers.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover –– that’s what’s wrong with the world now,” said Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, one of the most influential voices in the locker room. “They look at something and judge it, not knowing the whole situation. (They’re) assuming, and what you assume isn’t right because you’re just going off what you see, and not what you know.”
For all the incidents Peters has been involved with over his three-year career –– post-play punts, unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties or in-game yapping at referees –– Peters has consistently taken responsibility for his mistakes. He did so again on Friday, when he admitted he shouldn’t have cursed at the fan.
“I felt some type of way about what was said, and I reacted,” said Peters. “I’m man enough to own up to all my (expletive) mistakes.”
Peters’ willingness to do so is one of the things teammates have come to respect about him. Houston is a man who takes the Chiefs’ “family” atmosphere seriously, and he clearly considers Peters a significant part of the group.
“He’s real, and he’s honest,” Houston said. “People on the outside of this locker room, they look at him and they may judge him. But everybody in this locker room knows who he is, and what he’s about. And everybody in this locker room, they love the man. They ride for him.”
When asked about Peters, many of the star cornerback’s other supporters in the Chiefs’ locker room — such as coach Andy Reid and safety Ron Parker — reference the unspoken, largely unreported good works he does for youth.
Peters has been known to occasionally pop up at local schools — he took a surprise visit to Ruskin High last October and spoke to the football team, for example.
But Peters has always been reticent to provide specifics about such things. He’s fiercely protective of his privacy, much like mentor and fellow Oakland native Marshawn Lynch, a running back with the Raiders.
“What I do for the kids is what I do for the kids,” Peters said. “I’m here to see the kids grow, I’m here to see these kids go somewhere and be able to have an opportunity, as everybody should, in this world.”
When asked why helping kids is so important to him, Peters’ eyes widen and his voice grows still more passionate.
“Why shouldn’t that be important to everybody?” he said. “No child should be able to walk outside and feel scared that they’re gonna be treated different.”
This is the Peters his teammates love. Raw, honest and completely at home in the locker room.
“He’s always smiling when we’re in here,” inside linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “Always joking, about anything. Just teasing. He’s a guy with a good vibe to be around.”
And the kind of person those teammates wish strangers could see more of.
“Nobody gets to see that side of him,” Parker said. “If you do, I think that would change your whole outlook on the way you think about him.”
The gap between the real Marcus Peters — the one teammates and family know — and his public persona may remain, however, because Peters has shown little interest in bridging it. He doesn’t care about public perception. He’s motivated by football, his family and the city of Oakland.
This is a good explanation for Peters’ refusal to code-switch — or alternate between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation — during interviews, and an indication of his inherent honesty. What you see is what you get, 100 percent of the time.
“Even as friends and teammates, we don’t always agree on the way he acts sometimes, but we know he has good intentions,” Johnson said. “Like, his intentions are great. He’s really a team guy.”
Johnson said Peters has become more vocal toward the entire defense during practice, and sees that as a sign of his increasing maturity.
“This year has been the first year Marcus Peters has been talking to the group, as a whole, like the defense, (saying things) like, ‘Hey guys, we need to do this,’” Johnson said.
Juxtapose that with the scathing comments Peters has received on his Facebook and Twitter pages due to his refusal to stand for the anthem.
“That (expletive) crazy, huh?” Peters said with a laugh. “Yeah, I look at (social media) because I’ve got Twitter, I’ve got Instagram. I’m gonna look at it. But I’m at the house, bruh. I’m chilling with my son. That (expletive) don’t bother me ... those people ain’t in my house; those people don’t have anything to do with how I live my day-to-day life.”
In Peters’ mind, as long as his loved-ones know why he’s sitting during the anthem, he’s prepared to deal with whatever public criticism comes his way.
“They know what’s up — that’s why there’s no issue,” Peters said. “(People are) gonna display their opinion about how they think a (expletive) should be handling their business or something, you feel me?
“But you can’t judge anybody until you know what people have been through or what people are going through. ... I’ve got to worry about the community I’m living in; I’ve got to worry about a whole lot of other things, too, that affect my life and others around me. It’s a lot.”
Asked what he wanted people to take from Friday’s conversation, Peters stood up, wrapped a towel around his waist, and prepared to walk off to the shower.
“That we’ve got a game against Houston on Sunday,” Peters said. Then he turned and walked away.
Kansas City Star staff photographer David Eulitt didn't know how the Kansas City Chiefs would react during Sunday's National Anthem before the Los Angeles Chargers. What he saw through the lens surprised him: several players took one knee but line