It was one of those football game highlight moments. Dallas Cowboys fans went wild as punt return specialist Ryan Switzer dashed 83 yards for a touchdown in the first half against the visiting Washington Redskins last month.
Cowboys season ticket holder and Dallas IT executive Andrew Brown almost wasn’t there.
He doesn’t like how the NFL’s been treating players who kneel during the national anthem, protesting police brutality. Then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the movement last year.
“I felt as though Colin Kaepernick had put it all on the line for us, African-Americans, who recognize that there’s a level of treatment of African-Americans that’s not consistent across the board with how law enforcement treats other individuals in our society,” Brown said.
Brown says Kaepernick is now paying the price. He’s out of a job. That bothers Brown, who says people are going to extremes in response to the kneeling players, calling them unpatriotic.
And some people are also going to extremes about police, he says.
“You’ve got this narrative over here saying, ‘All cops are bad, killing black people.’ And you got these people over here saying, ‘We need police officers. Black people need to stop doing criminal things.’
“Instead of having those conversations, my conversation is ‘How do we change the narrative? How do we change the perception? Oh, put people together and see what happens,’” Brown said.
That’s the game plan Brown drew up. He approached Bryan Adams High School in his Dallas neighborhood, as well as the police and the sheriff’s departments, and offered his Cowboys tickets to bring kids and cops together for games.
"Now, I’m talking about people. I’m talking about cops. I’m talking about kids, [who], in an environment where everybody is at odds, [are] at more risk,” Brown said.
An hour before kickoff
Brown and his tailgate buddies gather at their usual spot in Lot J just across from AT&T Stadium for the November matchup between the Cowboys and Redskins.
His guests are Bryan Adams High School juniors La’Dettrick Tyson, Bryan Baldomero – both students of color — and Dallas County Deputy Sheriff Claiborne Fountain, who’s black.
No one’s in uniform — not the sheriff, not the kids. On this night, they’re all Cowboys fans.
“There needs to be a dialogue,” Fountain said. “There needs to be communication. And communication is key. If there’s something going on that you don’t understand, you can’t move forward. But once you sit down and talk and there’s a line of communication opened up, it starts to move things forward.”
Students Bryan and La’Dettrick only want to talk about food for now. As they’re offered some chili, chicken and Frito pie, Bryan says he’s always gotten along with officers.
“When I see a cop, I don’t think of it as a negative thing,” Bryan said. “Because they’re here to protect and serve us. So if you don’t have anything to hide, then you really shouldn’t feel bad about it. When I see them, I don’t really have any negative feelings toward them.”
La’Dettrick doesn’t have any negative feelings toward police either. Still, he’s an African-American teenager. So he says his worried mother talked with him about growing up as a person of color.
“She thinks a cop will shoot me or shoot somebody in my family one day,” La’Dettrick said. “She was like, ‘Treat them with much respect; don’t do too much moving and all that,’ so they don’t think I’m drawing a weapon or anything.”
With kickoff approaching, the kids and sheriff head into the stadium, where together, they sit and cheer on the Cowboys.
Beyond the game
Andrew Brown doesn’t just want to build bridges at football games. He and his friends have created a nonprofit – the Stand N The Gap Foundation – that’s designed to also change the narrative by bringing people together to focus on "solutions that promote freedom, justice, and equality.”
April Allen, one of Brown’s tailgating friends, has contributed to the foundation because she believes in it.
“I think that it will be a success because in the end, the boys are seeing policemen as real people and not people that are trying to hurt them or come after them,” she said.
That’s Brown’s idea, too. As a kid growing up in Florida, he says police also lived in his poor neighborhood. They played basketball together. There was a semblance of mutual respect and understanding.
In Texas, Brown’s hoping to recreate that feeling. He only wishes NFL team owners had thought of it first.
“These owners are men who own stadiums filled with seats. And if they had taken a step back, instead of fostering the hateful narrative that’s out there, they could have led entire communities in a different direction by putting officers and kids from these neighborhoods in seats together.”
For Brown, bringing them together and building relationships is a winning narrative. As for the game, the Cowboys won, beating Washington 38-14.