BEREA, Ohio (AP) — His eyes filling with tears, Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins spoke passionately about a decision he knew would bring backlash and possibly harm his reputation.
For Hawkins, there was no choice.
A day after he wore a T-shirt protesting two shootings in Ohio involving police and victims carrying fake guns, Hawkins said he was motivated out of fear that one day something tragic could happen to his 2-year-old son.
Hawkins wore the black shirt during pre-game warmups and introductions Sunday before Cleveland hosted the Cincinnati Bengals. The messages read: “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” on the front and “The Real Battle for Ohio” on the back.
The 12-year-old Rice died Nov. 22 after he was shot by a rookie officer investigating a complaint about the youngster, who was carrying a fake gun. Crawford, 22, was fatally shot Aug. 5 while holding an air-pellet rifle inside a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio.
“I have a two-year-old little boy, that same two-year-old little boy everyone says was cute when I jokingly threw him out of the house earlier this year,” Hawkins said, pausing to gain his composure. “That little boy is my entire world and the number one reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me.”
Hawkins spoke for six minutes Monday at his locker without taking questions. He said he wanted to address the situation after Cleveland police union president Jeff Follmer called his actions “pathetic” and told cleveland.com Hawkins is “disrespecting the police on a job that we had to do and make a split-second decision.”
Hawkins’ one-man protest was supported by the Browns, who said in a statement that they respected both the police and their players’ rights to take on causes.
“My wearing of the T-shirt wasn’t a stance against every police officer or every police department,” Hawkins said. “My wearing of the T-shirt was a stance against wrong individuals doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason to innocent people.”
Hawkins said he was “scared” of the reaction to his demonstration, but the 28-year-old chose to wear the shirt “because deep down I felt like it was the right thing to do.”
“I utterly respect and appreciate every police officer that protects and serves all of us with honesty, integrity and the right way,” he said. “And I don’t think those kind of officers should be offended by what I did. … If I was to run away from what I felt in my soul was the right thing to do, that would make me a coward and I couldn’t live with that.”
Hawkins said his mother raised him to respect law enforcement and he has family and close friends who are police officers. She also taught him to stand up for his beliefs.
“My heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford, knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality,” he said. “I felt like my heart was in the right place, I’m at peace with it and those who disagree with me, this is America. That’s the point. Everyone has a right to their First Amendment rights.”
Browns linebacker Craig Robertson said he did not have any issue with his teammate’s choice to protest before the game.
“You can’t fault a person for standing up for something that he believes in,” Robertson said. “You can’t get mad at somebody if they don’t believe in Christmas, so you can’t get mad at somebody for wearing a T-shirt.”
AP NFL websites: https://www.pro32.ap.org and https://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL