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From the time he was selected as an undrafted free agent by the New Orleans Saints in 2010, Junior Galette has let his stellar athleticism speak for him on the field. But, he also has no problem speaking for himself, and the athlete is calling for other Black players to use their voices, as well, to seek changes to the alleged biased policies and bylaws of the National Football League. That is why Galette preparing to file arbitration against the NFL for restitution for racial pay discrimination and another chance to play the sport he loves after he believes he was blackballed for speaking out.
As current events bring to light systemic racism that continues to raise global consciousness, Galette is raising his voice: “I just want the world to know that the NFL is not exempt to racism,” he said in an exclusive interview with REVOLT. Galette even recalled an instance where a team owner compared his relationship with his players to a prison guard and inmates. “I’m afraid that is how too many owners see management’s relationship with the players,” Galette said. However, one may wonder if his routine divulgence on social media may have derailed his career.
The promising player began to face issues in his offseason, such as a domestic abuse charge that was later dropped and a beach brawl, which led to a highly publicized encounter with police. Gallette also had public blunders compounded by explosive tweets airing team dirty laundry and criticizing NFL leadership. Still, armed with several instances of preferential treatment for white players and less leniency for Black players, Galette presents a compelling case.
Last month, the NFL was among the dozens of global corporations and organizations to speak out and affirm that Black Lives Matter. Social media accounts representing both the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell published statements condemning racism and encouraging Black players to speak up, as the league is ready to listen, which is a far cry from the corporate culture that had Colin Kaepernick ousted. Galette is hopeful this time things will be different this time.
Here’s what Galette had to tell REVOLT:
The recent support for Black Lives Matter from Commissioner Goodell prompted you to write him an open letter requesting that he put action behind his words and engage in a sincere dialogue with you. Why do you believe you’re the one to have that conversation?
When Commissioner Roger Goodell came out and said that he wanted to listen to Black players faced with racism in the league, I was optimistic that we could work together to resolve my situation, and hopefully make some lasting change in the whole system. But, to this day, I haven’t heard anything back. I’ve even invited the NFL to come and meet with me, and they declined.
So, I really feel like I have no other options, but to seek relief. Luckily, I’m part of a collective bargaining agreement that is supposed to protect players against the types of things that happened to me, and I plan to enforce my rights.
What was going through your mind when you saw Goodell and the league’s statements?
I’m not going to lie, it felt pretty good at first because it’s like, “Wow. My voice is actually being heard and people are actually going to look into my story.” I’ve missed two years. Two years, of my prime years... 30 and 31 years old. As a defensive end, Michael Strahan broke the sack record at 30 years old. I missed that and I feel like I came back to form in 2017, and did what I had to do, but as soon as I spoke out on pay discrimination, frankly, I was blackballed.
Why do you want to play again? Why do you still want to be a part of this organization?
I love the game and this is the only job I’ve ever had in my life. So, not playing these last two years, which I’ve been healthy, hurts... I love the game. I miss everything about it. I miss the camaraderie, I miss the impact I know I can have on other young guys who have to overcome some adversity, as well. Knowing what I can do to motivate other Black players who haven’t come out and spoken against the NFL or whatever team is keeping them out, so I want to be that guy just like Kaepernick was to me. That’s who inspired me.
You wanted to kneel with Kaepernick during the national anthem in the past. Why?
I actually remember that incident vividly. It was a “Monday Night Football” game against the Oakland Raiders. As I’m sure you know, “Monday Night [Football]” games are nationally televised. It’s an exciting spotlight for players usually. That night in particular, I was moved and encouraged by Colin Kaepernick, because it’s bright lights. I was like, “Wow this guy must really be brave. All these lights around.”
As we locked arms with the coaches, cameras everywhere, and as we were about to say the [National Anthem], I said, “I want to take a knee.” I was locked arms with the coach at that time, and he looked at me and said, “Don’t do it.” At that moment, my heart just froze because I felt like less of a man because I did want to stand up for something. After he said that, I wanted to do it even more. It was a very pivotal moment for me, and I regret to this day not standing up for Black people in America.
After everything that has happened since then, both with the way I’ve been treated by Washington and what is going on with our country, I vowed to myself to never be silent again and speaking out is the right thing to do. So, here I am.
Over 70 percent of NFL players are Black, yet the majority of the front office personnel are not. How do you think this impacts the policies?
My open letter to Commissioner Goodell and my upcoming op-ed both call for systemic change in the NFL. This is exactly the kind of change I’m talking about. It is startling that more than 70% of the players are Black, but that is not 70% of the coaching and front office leadership or, not to mention, the owners.
This reminds me of something an owner once said — something I think encapsulates this whole issue. When some players, following Colin Kaepernick’s lead, started to kneel in peaceful protest of police brutality, one of the NFL owners reportedly said “You can’t have the inmates running the prison.” I’m afraid that is how too many owners see management’s relationship with the players: they are the prison guards and we are the inmates? For there to be real equality, real change, we need to be on an even playing field. We need more Black coaches, more Black executives, and more Black owners. It’s very personal for me.
You’re preparing to file a lawsuit against the league, correct?
You believe that you’ve been blackballed for speaking out. You returned to a successful season after a horrible injury and performed at top shape, so you expected to be offered a fair contract from the Washington Redskins for the next season. Instead you were met with one that showed you as undervalued. And when you addressed it, they actually rescinded the offer. What leads you to believe that race was the cause?
Well for example, there was a player on my team — a white guy from Stanford named Trent Murphy who in 2017 he had a torn ACL, a torn meniscus and also was suspended for four games for violating the substance abuse policy for PEDs. He got offered, after that season — the same season that I came into work everyday and I saw him coming in to treatment when I would leave. After treatment, I’d go to practice, and come meet and do all the extra stuff like weights. I’m there from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and he’s there from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. He receives three years, $22.5 million and 1000% more in signing bonus money than I did. So, I saw his deal and I was like, “Well, I’m about to get paid!” ...but, that’s not what happened. The Redskins made a two-year offer with basically $500,000 in guaranteed money and I was upset... So, I saw that deal and spoke on pay discrimination. This is not fair. And just as you said the deal got rescinded and that’s OK.
I was also in talks with the Rams at this time. As I’m familiar with Sean McVay, the head coach for the Rams; and also the assistant coach. They’re familiar with me because they were with the Redskins with me as well, so they know me fairly well... We respect each other. I basically felt like I was promised [a spot on the team]. They were so excited to bring me out and for me to become part of the family. They fly me out there, and was asking me what jersey number I want. I passed my physical, and as I’m putting my cleats on to go workout, a junior level staff member tells me, “Change of plans. Workout’s cancelled. I have to take you back to the hotel.” After being in talks with the coaches, it just didn’t make sense.
After that it gets even worse. Seattle calls me, right? [The coach] said, “Junior you’re going to love it in Seattle. You come here, you and Frank Clark...” — Frank Clark was the Seattle defensive end, same kind of caliber type of player. He’s on a $500 million deal I believe with the Kansas City Chiefs. They just won a Super Bowl. Seattle called and said, “You and Frank Clark paired together would be monsters for the NFC West. You guys would be amazing!”
He doesn’t know what happened with LA, that it just came to a complete stop. So he’s like, “Don’t sign with L.A. yet. Come to Seattle and see what we got for you and we’ll talk it through.” I’m like, “OK.” They fly me out to Seattle and the next day, 4 in the morning, I get there, pass my physical, I’m putting my cleats on the same exact thing happens. I don’t get no explanation. I don’t speak to a coach. Nothing. Change of plans. It’s been two years.
Why do you think that is? And why do you think the Redskins offered you a poor contract?
This is the NFL’s history. If you look at what happened to Cam Newton, right? He’s the former MVP of the NFL. He had a hard time getting on a team this year. He signed for a veterans’ minimum this year. The former MVP? Cam Newton? I play defensive end. I can tell you right now, I would much rather play a quarterback that’s less mobile, meaning that he’s not a dual threat. He can’t run and pass. I would much rather play that guy than having to play Cam Newton who can just take off and run wherever he wants, and he’s 6’5” 250 pounds.
And you look at a guy like Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning had to get a spine fusion and he had about a 10% chance. The doctor’s said that he would play again. Ten percent. He’s done. The Colts are like, “The doctors said you’re not going to play.” So, they just let him go. He was then presented with a $56 million deal — guaranteed money from the Denver Broncos.
So, this is the history of the NFL. You can go back to Drew Brees. His rotator cuff was turned all the way around when he left San Diego. That’s the only reason they let him go. No teams wanted [the] chance on him, but the Saints signed him for six years and [for] $60 million. Gave him a fair deal for his past production. It just makes no sense. If you look at the NFL, this is something that’s been happening a long time and Black players have been speaking about it. It’s just that now, I guess people are paying more attention. I’m grateful for it. It’s better late than never.
What did you see during your time with the Saints?
I started out in this league as an undrafted rookie at the New Orleans Saints, and I have a lot of fond memories with the organization.
One of my proudest moments when I was elected a team captain by my teammates with the Saints and rewarded for my performance as a team sack leader with a $41.5 million deal. The City of New Orleans is a one-of-a-kind place with some of the best people in the world, and the New Orleans Saints is a classy organization, and I made a lot of friends in New Orleans. One guy in particular, Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan taught me so much and was really supportive. It’s crazy to me he’s no longer a coach in the league and his career ended with Washington just like me.
How did it feel to hear Drew Brees make his politically charged “All Lives Matter” statement?
Now, specifically as to Drew Brees, he’s a class act for whom I have a lot of respect both as a player and a man. But, on the issue of Black Lives Matter, I have to call a spade a spade. He got it wrong. No one is saying all lives don’t matter. The movement is about the attention that is needed on the Black lives that are so disproportionately impacted by police brutality in America. That is where the change is needed and that is what the movement is about.
Why is now the time for your pending arbitration? We’ve had these social justice conversations before and you could’ve moved ahead with legal action sooner.
As I told you, before those forces were against me, I just want to overcome. I just didn’t want to deal with the backlash. I didn’t want to deal with that. Two years have passed since I played. I’ve been through this before when I was injured. Now, I’m healthy and I’m missing two years. For what? It makes no sense. I’m tired. I’m frustrated. And right now, I’m just grateful that voices are starting to be heard, and other players are actually coming out and supporting me... You got guys like Trent Williams, Terron Armstead — these guys tell me I’m one of the best they go against. So, it’s frustrating. But, to finally be getting that support, I’m grateful for it and it’s just a positive step forward toward the end goal here, and that’s to get back to playing the game that I love and worked so hard to become a part of.
What do you want the world to see about the NFL?
I just want the world to know that the NFL is not exempt to racism. Several owners within the league have made sizable contributions in support of Trump. The president has dedicated his entire tenure to feeding into the fears of racist white Americans. Do you think there will ever be change if this is the indoctrination of the organization?
I’ve tried to give our current president all benefits of doubt. But by now I think anyone really willing to consider the truth will see that he is intentionally seeding dissension and division in our country. His undying support of the Confederate flag — and the hate for which it stands — and his disdain for those who peacefully protest for change are inexcusable, no matter how politically expedient to him.
Playing in the south, I encountered the Confederate flag all over even on license plates, and it always gave me pause. I’ll never forget going to an autograph session in Mississippi and seeing the Confederate flag as I walked in. I was very aware of the flag and situation, but I was there to sign autographs, so I settled in to meet with the fans. There was a long line so as everybody was making their way through. I was trying to get through as fast as possible. Everybody was like, “Hey! Junior Galette, man! Great job. You’re a beast.” I’m trying to lift my head up and greet all the fans, and try to make that moment as pleasurable as I can for them, and all I hear is, “You had a heckuva season, boy.”
And it was that moment. It just startled me. I was like, “Wow.” I literally felt no matter how much success I have, I’m still viewed as “a black boy.”
Are you planning to file your lawsuit as a class action suit or will it be individual?
Again, I’m going to differ to my legal team about the specifics, but [what] I can tell you it is my understanding that the league’s rules called collective bargaining agreement don’t allow for class action lawsuits against the NFL. That being said, I know there are other guys like me out there and I urge all of them to speak their truth. You got a guy like D. J. Swearinger who just came out speaking against his awful experience and D. J., I can attest is a great leader. A great team captain. He did everything he could to motivate us as players and most of the peers definitely respected him. It’s just guys in management and coaching staff that disrespected him and he showcased that with his exchange earlier in the week, and a lot of guys have been speaking out recently.
What makes you think you’ll be treated fairly after all of this?
To be honest, I’m actually excited to see how America looks as a whole after everything plays out and all this — you know, [when] the pandemic is over and we really come out of it. I’m excited. I don’t know, but I do love the game of football and will continue to be in the best shape of my life prepared for another opportunity.