Titus O’Neil addresses George Floyd, ‘uncomfortable conversations’ in chat with Tampa police

TAMPA, Fla. — WWE superstar Titus O’Neil, a finalist for the 2020 Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award and a former Florida Gators defensive end, said Saturday that it should not fall on minorities to lead discussions on racism in America. He is calling on people from all races to take a vested interest in eradicating racism.

He also believes people must be “willing to be uncomfortable” to have discussions that will bring about positive change.

O’Neil, whose real name is Thaddeus Bullard, hosted an Instagram Live conversation with actor and former WWE star Dave Bautista, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister to discuss the death of George Floyd.

Floyd, who was black, died Monday after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for several minutes. Floyd’s death has shaken the Minneapolis community and sparked protests in cities across the United States. Chauvin was arrested Friday afternoon and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, local authorities announced.

“The reality of it is … it shouldn’t be on the minorities to lead this discussion,” said O’Neil, who credits attending a Sheriffs Youth Ranch camp as a troubled teenager for reshaping the course of his life. “When we talk about America being the greatest country in the world, we need to start by learning how to become the greatest people in the world.”

“When you have stuff like this and many other issues that are systemic and institutional, it’s very hard to have faith in the system because the losses are far greater than the victories. And in this case, we’re hoping and praying and rooting for the justice system to serve. ‘Just give us at least one.’ Let’s start with one victory here. But people from all races have the responsibility to help make this country better and to help eradicate. It’s not all on my back.”

O’Neil spoke about the marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, during the civil rights movement and also about how the power of images of people from different races coming together and getting involved to support the cause — even in the face of danger and violence — continues to resonate today.

“The uncomfortable conversations — the way you feel uncomfortable — some of y’all go to football games all the time. It’s hot or cold as I don’t know what. And you’re still uncomfortable. But you’ll sit through that football game. Because you’re interested. You’re invested. You bought that ticket. It don’t matter how hot it is — especially here in Tampa, you bought a ticket to go see Tom Brady perform — you’re gonna sit in that. It could be lightning and monsooning and you’ll be right there.

“So all I’m asking is that in the midst of this, and prior history before this: Be willing to be uncomfortable. Be willing to ask and have questions and give answers. Don’t brush aside people’s hurt and anger and try to politicize it and say, ‘If Colin Kaepernick was kneeling because of this reason, police brutality, you make it about the flag or you make it about the military and this and that.’ No. This is why he kneeled. We raised fists because we wanted to be liberated from this type of behavior.”

O’Neil has worked to foster better relationships between minorities and law enforcement in Tampa. He partnered with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston to put together an event called Champions of Character Day, which included a kickball game between Tampa youth and police. O’Neil also mentors at-risk youth.

During Saturday’s Instagram Live, O’Neil detailed the challenges of being a parent raising black children today. His sons Thaddeus Jr. and Titus are both teenagers. Thaddeus is now driving, and O’Neil has been looking at having a dashboard camera installed in the car in the event his son is pulled over by law enforcement.

“That’s another layer of something I’ve gotta have a talk about every single time my son gets in the car,” O’Neil said. “And both of my sons are honor roll students, honorable people, great human beings, would never do anything harmful to anybody. And here I am, ‘Superman’ in some people’s eyes. And for the first time in my life, I don’t have one f—ing answer to say, ‘It’s gonna be a OK.’ Because the last time I told them it was gonna be OK, it wasn’t f—ing OK. And the time before that I told them it was gonna be OK, it wasn’t f—ing OK.

“And if I’m feeling that, how do you think people — I heard a woman say earlier today, a 79-year-old black woman say, ‘They tear-gassed those protesters the same way they did us back in the day.'”

Dugan, a friend of O’Neil’s, said he understands the hurt and frustration people feel, which has led to protests all across America, including one in which one federal law enforcement officer was shot and killed and another wounded in Oakland, California. But Dugan wants people to know that the actions of a few bad cops should not reflect on the entire profession.

“You should have a problem with this. That’s what I want people to understand. You should be outraged at what happened,” Dugan said. “And just because you are mad about this and outraged doesn’t mean you’re against the police. You’re against bad cops. And everybody — even cops — the thing that good cops hate is a bad cop. I want people to be upset. They need to be able to vent. They need to be able to realize that they can still be angry about this and still be pro-police.”