When it comes to matters of football, Bill O'Brien likes to keep his cards close. But after the recent events surrounding George Floyd's death while in Minneapolis police custody, O'Brien didn't hold back.
O'Brien spent just over 13 minutes on a Zoom call originally set up as a press conference for new safety Michael Thomas to share his thoughts on the social injustices against black citizens.
"I think over the last eight, nine days like all of you, we've been thinking and listening and trying to understand and I wanted to take a few minutes to speak on behalf of our organization, but also speak from my heart," O'Brien said Wednesday. "I would say first on behalf of the Houston Texans, we want to send our deepest, our deepest condolences to the family of George Floyd, Houston's own George Floyd."
Floyd grew up in Houston's Third Ward and graduated from Jack Yates High School, where he played in the 1992 5A state championship game. O'Brien, moved by Floyd's love for his family, his city and for football, said he was impressed with the strength and passion displayed by Floyd's family in light of his tragic death.
"Our hearts go out to the black community in this country, especially in this city," O'Brien said. "We stand by you and we are ready to do our part in this community. I think everyone has to admit there are mistakes around the way. We all have to stand up and understand what is going on in this country right now is wrong. It's wrong relative to many, many things."
The Texans head coach and general manager discussed his personal conversations to learn and understand about social injustice through various coaches, players and political leaders. O'Brien said he called his friend and former colleague Dolphins head coach Brian Flores on Tuesday. The two believed that the what happened in Minneapolis was "absolutely horrendous" and needed to force changes moving forward.
O'Brien also opened up about his past heart-to-heart dialogues with members of his own staff, like associate head coach Romeo Crennel, and players about personal experiences with racism in everyday society.
"As it relates to the Texans, I've learned so much from men like Romeo Crennel when he talked to me one time about his experiences coaching college football in the south during the late 60s, early 70s," O'Brien said. "I've learned a lot from Deshaun Watson, when he talks about growing up in Gainesville and why he has the area code of Gainesville tattooed on his arm. I've learned a lot over the last year from Kenny Stills on why he takes a knee. I think we all know why Kenny takes a knee and why Eric Reid takes a knee. And, I think, one of the things that I try to do is I try to coach football and I try to listen to the players and the coaches and their life stories."
In recent days, many public figures have issued statements surrounding the killings of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and other unarmed black men and women. O'Brien said he's read many of them, from Flores to San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and including those from former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Moved by their empathy and understanding, O'Brien said these four in particular had words that resonated the most with him for their compassion and leadership in recent days. O'Brien admits that everyone, himself included, must do more.
"It's so much deeper," O'Brien said. "It's so much deeper, it's 400 years ago slavery, it's segregation, it's police brutality, it's not equal opportunities. It's so much deeper, it's deeper, and we have to stand with the black community and we have to heed the call to action and challenge each other to live out the change that we want to see. I'm emotional, I'm sad, you guys know that about me especially here in Houston. I'm sad, I'm frustrated because I'm questioning what can I do, I've got to do more."
Watson and several teammates attended Houston's protest and rally for George Floyd on Tuesday. O'Brien plans to give players the day off on Tuesday, June 9 to encourage players to attend Floyd's funeral in Houston.