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August 22, 2019

For Giants RB Saquon Barkley, retweets do equal endorsements

August 13, 2019

Twitter users love to dodge accountability by claiming that their retweets are not endorsements. But the famously elusive Saquon Barkley isn’t dodging any of the implications of his recent social media activity.

His retweets, like everything he says, are done with a purpose. And lately he seemingly has begun to show (if not yet find) his voice through subtle endorsements on potentially divisive issues including Colin Kaepernick’s comeback attempt, a Baltimore product’s passionate defense against racist presidential rhetoric and Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout for a new contract.

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“I’m not afraid to speak my mind,” Barkley, 22, tells the Daily News after practice Monday.

Barkley insists he always has been vocal and aware of his platform. He has more to lose now than ever, however, given his meteoric rise to face-of-the-franchise status with the Giants in just one year.

Saquon Barkley is using his status as an NFL star to engage in purposeful discussions about various social issues. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

So his willingness to engage on these controversial issues has opened an intriguing window into the mind, beliefs and evolving brand of the polished Barkley. And Barkley says he knows the risks — such as alienating fans, whom he respects — but that won’t stop him from saying what he feels is right or real.

“If a fan wants to not be a fan of me because I retweet a thing for Colin Kaepernick, I don’t care,” he says, as one example. “But I respect that people have their own opinions. Everyone is entitled to that. I just would hope that people respect I have a right to my own opinion, as well.”

HAVING KAP’S BACK

Let’s start there: Last Wednesday, Barkley retweeted a Kaepernick workout video ESPN had shared with the caption: “Colin Kaepernick has been staying ready.” The video began with a stat: “Denied work for 889 days.”

The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and racial oppression. That was his last season in the league, and earlier this year the NFL settled a collusion case brought by Kapernick and ex-teammate Eric Reid accusing the NFL’s owners of blackballing them.

Monday, I asked Barkley about entering the delicate Kaepernick NFL conversation. I say that Kaepernick being out of the league has nothing to do with his on-field ability. Barkley implies that’s all the more reason to support him.

“I think you just answered the question yourself,” Barkley says. “He’s not in the league not ’cause he can’t play. I mean, is that fair to him? Because of his belief or what he views?”

The star running back stresses, though, that he does not wade into any dialogue like this lightly. He’s always been conscientious about educating himself on important issues and speaking when it’s called for.

“If you ask me, ‘Am I in year two being more willing to be vocal about my opinion’ — that’s what I think the question is — I think that was the same case in year one,” Barkley says. “I think that was the same case in college football: understanding I have a platform and if there’s an issue that came up that I disagreed with, I’m more than willing to talk. I’m not going to just talk about it.

“Like say if you asked me a question up there (at the podium) and I’m not well-educated on the situation,” Barkley adds, “I would go back, educate myself on the situation, and then be able to come back and give you a proper answer. I’m not gonna just talk off of emotions and in the moment. I feel like with topics like that, definitely go back and do my research and do my due diligence.”

He reiterates: “It’s not like ‘cause I’m in year two I’m willing to be more vocal about a situation. No. I’ve always been vocal and understand I have a platform. But hey, if I retweet a video of Colin Kaepernick working out and staying ready for the NFL and people dislike that, so be it.”

Barkley clarifies that his spring participation in an Atlanta area celebrity charity game with Kaepernick was coincidental. He played because rapper Quavo who hosted the game is Barkley’s good friend, and Kaepernick happened to be there. Still, that day Barkley did tell Fox 5 Atlanta he was “a big fan” of Kaepernick’s, and he respects the 31-year-old’s commitment to a comeback.

Primarily that’s what his support is about.

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“I mean Kaepernick’s a household name, everybody knows about him, for whatever reason you know him for, and to catch a pass from him (in the charity game) I thought was pretty cool,” Barkley said. “And even though he’s not in the NFL anymore, and like you said with retweeting the videos of him working out, I mean that’s just like I think it’s cool he’s still working out and still waiting for his opportunity for a shot and when the shot comes, he’s showing he’s still gonna be ready for it. And as a man, I respect that.”

PAY ZEKE

Barkley made an interesting football-related statement recently, too. Last Tuesday, he retweeted Jets running back Le’Veon Bell’s message in support of Dallas Cowboys holdout running back Ezekiel Elliott.

ESPN’s SportsCenter Twitter account tweeted: “Representatives for Ezekiel Elliott have told the Cowboys that he will not play in the 2019 season with a new contract, a source close to the situation told @JosinaAnderson.”

Bell, who just sat out a full NFL season to get paid, tweeted: “They gotta pay up, period.” Barkley retweeted. Then Bell posted a photo of him and Barkley on Twitter from Thursday’s preseason opener with the caption: “never forget this convo @saquon.”

“I don’t think that’s necessarily me saying I agree with (Elliott), but I wouldn’t say I disagree with him,” Barkley said. “You have your God-given right to have your own opinion and do what you wanna do. Zeke holding out, Zeke feels that he should get paid more. ‘Do I agree with him holding out?’ I don’t have to worry about that. He’s playing for Dallas, you know what I’m talking about? He plays for Dallas. I know we play the same position, but he plays for Dallas, so he can do what he wants to do.

Barkley says “you see the difference” in the Cowboys’ offense when Elliott is on the field and when he isn’t. “So do I think he deserves to be paid? Yes,” he adds. “He’s one of the best players in the league, so I think he should be paid like he’s one of the best players in the league — not just because he’s a running back.”

Barkley, humble as ever, assures his support for Elliott is no reflection on his own situation, however. His focus is on the 2019 season and team-oriented goals that he hopes he can help achieve with even more individual contributions on the 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year’s part.

“No, I don’t time for that,” Barkley says of projecting what Elliott’s situations means for him years down the road. “I’m just supporting him. I don’t have time to focus on that. I gotta get to that point. Zeke did what he had to do to get into a position where he can say he wants more money. I only did it one year. I mean don’t get me wrong, it was a heck of a year individually, but I only did one year. And I’m still trying to prove to my teammates that I can lead, that I can help bring this team to (be) a playoff contender, help bring this team to (be) a championship contender, that’s what I’m focusing on.

GETTING POLITICAL?

Talking money and football, though, wasn’t as noteworthy as Barkley’s July 27 retweet of a CNN video covering the most topical and divisive conversation in this country: racism.

The video clip, posted by New York Magazine/Huffington Post contributor Yashar Ali, featured CNN correspondent and co-host Victor Blackwell emotionally criticizing President Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric — specifically the use of the term “infested” to describe minority communities, including the part of Baltimore where Blackwell was raised.

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Barkley, born in the Bronx and raised two hours west of MetLife Stadium in Coplay, Pa., said he did not intend to enter a political debate by retweeting Blackwell’s message, however. He said his endorsement was about recognizing Blackwell for being “real.”

“For me it wasn’t so much a retweet going at Trump, I guess you could say,” Barkley says. “Obviously he was speaking on that topic. It was more a retweet that I like real. You could see how passionate Victor Blackwell was speaking about that … (about) the words that were used to describe a place he grew up (in). And you could see how passionate he was talking about that, and I respected that, so I retweeted it.”

So Barkley’s intentions were not anti-Trump, as he thoughtfully points out. But this is why he is purposefully thoughtful about engaging in any serious dialogue: he knows there can be consequences to getting involved in these conversations, and intentions don’t always matter.

UNDERSTANDING THE RISKS

Veteran Giants safety Michael Thomas, the team’s 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award nominee, wasn’t aware until Monday of Barkley’s recent uptick in social media social awareness.

The Houston native also knelt for the national anthem for a time as a Miami Dolphin, and so he is familiar with the ramifications of standing for what you believe in.

Thomas is a role model on the Giants’ roster and in the NFL, though, for his involvement in local communities, his charitable contributions, and internships on Capitol Hill to affect change.

Just recently, in fact, Thomas’ friend and former teammate Kenny Stills, a Miami receiver, called out Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for hosting a fundraiser for President Trump while simultaneously running the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) nonprofit that strives to eliminate racial discrimination.

Stills is speaking on a matter that’s important to him. He’s doing it at risk to his career. Thomas, who once worked with Ross’ non-profit, says Monday: “The only thing I’ll say is I love the people who work with RISE, but they understood why I could no longer work with them.”

And Thomas says often what creates change is when people with the most at stake speak up. So he would encourage Barkley, if the running back is passionate about issues, to do the same.

“I’d say if he has a huge platform, speak his mind, because that’s what it takes,” Thomas said. “It takes people in higher positions with bigger platforms with, I guess, bigger things at stake to show no, these things are important and I need to speak out. ‘Yeah, you love me for what I do on the field, but this is also how I think and these are things that I care about.’”

This entire Giants team, Barkley included, stood for the national anthem last season and continues to now. All three Giants who knelt for the anthem in Week 3 of the 2017 NFL season, after President Trump’s verbal attacks on players’ patriotism, are no longer with the team: Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Landon Collins.

They did sign Thomas in the 2018 offseason, though, and head coach Pat Shurmur cited Thomas’ “social awareness” in December as one reason why he admires him.

“He’s very thoughtful about all things and he develops strong opinions about things, but it’s not willy-nilly,” Shurmur said, “because he’s got core values he believes in. I admire him as much as a man as a player.”

Barkley for now is only dipping his toe in the water, really, compared to Thomas’ off-the-field example. Despite being young, though, Barkley is putting significant thought into every statement he decides to make, and Thomas says that’s absolutely necessary.

“Because I know the implications of it, have dealt with it personally, it has to be something that you’re willing to deal with,” Thomas says. “It has to be something that you’re saying, ‘OK, I have all this in front of me, something I’ve probably been working for since I was a kid and I first had that dream of playing in the NFL, is this that important to me where I’m willing to risk it and lose everything?’ It sucks that me speaking out for things that are important to me, especially in my community that I represent, I would have to even make that choice. But it is what it is. You know what I’m saying? That’s where we are in 2019.

Barkley’s decision seems to be that, at some level, he wants his voice to be heard. It will be fascinating to continue listening.

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