KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One of the big knocks on cornerback Marcus Peters when he entered the NFL draft two years ago was that he carried a lot of unwelcome baggage from his time at Washington.
He got into fights with assistant coaches. He boiled over during games. He ultimately got kicked out of the Huskies’ program when coach Chris Petersen decided he had seen enough.
In short, many believed Peters was juvenile and selfish.
That may be what made his protest of social injustice during the national anthem for the Kansas City Chiefs’ season opener last weekend even more surprising.
It was Peters who locked arms with his team in a sign of unity, then raised his gloved right fist for all to see.
“It’s not about attention for me,” he said after the game. “I’m more so, ‘Don’t talk about it, be about it.’ I come from a majority black community from Oakland, California.
“I’ve grown up around my people a lot. I still have family that struggles. I’m not saying one thing or another, but we need to educate youth coming up. If we keep educating them, we’ll eliminate these problems.”
That doesn’t exactly sound like someone who is juvenile and selfish.
Sounds more like someone who has grown up.
Peters still harbors a hot streak, as evidenced by the jawing match he got into with Chargers wide receivers, but he has also learned to control his emotions between the white lines.
That has made him one of the league’s premier defenders.
He had trouble keeping up with San Diego star Keenan Allen in the first half, but buckled down once Allen left with an injury and had a solid second half. He was a big reason why the Chiefs rallied to the biggest comeback in franchise history in a 33-27 overtime victory.
That after starting all 16 games as a rookie last season, picking off eight passes and returning two of them for touchdowns. Those efforts even earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl.
It also earned him a unique leadership role as a second-year player in a youthful secondary.
“My leadership role is, you just got to go out there and work as hard as you can to make those plays, and the rest will take care of itself,” he said. “We got a team full of leaders. Like I said, last year it makes my job that much easier if I don’t have to do too much — just play ball.”
Peters isn’t just playing ball, though. By taking a stance alongside 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and many other professional athletes, Peters is thrusting himself squarely into the middle of a discussion that has captivated America.
He also knows raising awareness is one thing, and that objective has largely been accomplished. The crucial next step is taking that awareness and using it to produce positive change.
“We’re trying to help this cause as a team,” Peter said. “Everybody is going to play their part and we’re going to … work together to help improve the justice system in Kansas City and around the world.”
Exactly what that looks like remains to be seen. Perhaps it is meeting with local law enforcement or spending more time in the community. Education is a big part of it, Peters said, and getting positive messages to impressionable youth could make a difference.
One thing is clear: He has plenty of support in his locker room.
“Some guys wanted to link arms; some wanted to have their hand over the heart at the same time. We just wanted everyone to be able to express themselves however they wanted,” wide receiver Chris Conley said, “but we also wanted to be unified as a team while drawing attention to the issue.
“The cool thing about the meeting we had was this isn’t the only thing we’re going to do. We’re not just going to link arms before games,” Conley continued. “We’re going to do hands-on activities with the community to reach out and try to improve relations.”
Asked what that might include, Conley said: “We’ve talked about meeting with police, first responders and people within the community to help mend relationships between residents and the police.”
The Chiefs have been supportive of the players’ stance, and coach Andy Reid praised the way Peters went about things, pointing out that “this kid does a phenomenal job in the community.”
“There’s no question he’s all in,” Reid said. “There’s no question he respects whatever — law enforcement, military — you don’t have to question that with his guy. He just wants what’s right, like we all do. I think that’s the important thing. What the players are doing right now is important. Let’s just all get along and that would be a beautiful thing.”