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Transcript: James Brown on "Face the Nation," August 30, 2020

The following is a transcript of an interview with James Brown, CBS News Special Correspondent and host of The NFL Today, that aired Sunday, August 30, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We're all familiar with the public personalities of our sports heroes as we know them on the field, on the court, but the personal feelings of many athletes, Black and white, came to light this week in the aftermath of the Jacob Blake shooting. We go now to CBS News special correspondent and host of NFL Today, James Brown. Good morning to you, J.B. Great to have you here.

JAMES BROWN: Good morning. Good to be here, MARGARET.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I mean, it seemed the entire sports world came to a halt this week, and as The New York Times put it, "No longer was sports offering gentrified protest with league-endorsed slogans on basketball jerseys. Calm collapsed in the face of the inevitably growing power of players to make more than a statement. They took action. It shattered the bubble- bubble of normalcy." How are these athletes using their megaphones?

BROWN: Power that they've always had, but have been on the opposite end in terms of people pushing back, specifically owners and the powers that be. Look, I think the best way to do it is to synopsize the result of my conversations this past week with players, league executives and many others. One, the players feel that they're at a crossroads, MARGARET, that this is a significant point in history. They don't get the impression that anything significant is being done as they point a finger at leadership in general around the country, that they're not serious about changes. So therefore, the athletes feel the platform that they have is one that they should handle responsibly. And number two, that they have a moral obligation to represent the marginalized and to advocate strongly for that until they see serious change made. And, to me, very uniquely, it's across the spectrum with all sports, the WNBA, the NBA, the NFL, which has been doing some significant things through the players coalition, through the legislative process, et cetera, and as well as hockey. Talk about a cultural change. About 30% of the hockey players are American born, but the rest, they're foreign. So- but they're on board showing solidarity.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So is the change that we heard announced from the NBA, this agreement to try to, you know, put up voting booths in- in stadiums and in arenas, the announcement that they'll have some sort of social justice coalition, is that the kind of change that the players wanted? Or will we see this protest continue?

BROWN: The former of what you're saying, and you may still see the latter because they want to see significant change. Look, it's often been articulated, work through the system. That's what the athletes are doing. And they're not just advocating things. These players are doing things. When you look at the likes of LeBron James, when you look at the likes of the young players in the NFL, Patrick Mahomes and others, they are putting their resources and their actions where their articulation has been. And that's significant. Look, I remember Michael Thomas in the NFL mentioning to me before that he comes from the Houston district and many of the people there who are suffering saying thank you for being a voice for us because we're not being listened to. You are. And he's been on Capitol Hill for two years now, working as an intern to learn how to work through the system. But he represents a number of athletes who are doing that, MARGARET.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, James, from the players you talked to, do they feel like they're being forced into taking a stand here? Because what you're describing is sort of a passion project among some. But, you know, Charles Barkley this week said it is exhausting being Black, especially when you're a celebrity. He said, I love Tom Brady, but nobody asked him about what's going on in white America. Is this an unfair burden or is this something the players feel is a passion project?

BROWN: It is reality in terms of what Charles Barkley said. Look, this isn't a Black problem only because the only way the path forward and the only solution is for it to be inclusive. There's no way-, look, for 400 plus years, African-Americans have been trying to articulate, advocate, scream about what the issues are, but have fallen on deaf ears. This is a tectonic shift reminiscent of back during the civil rights movement, when the world saw those Black women and girls coming from church in their Sunday finest being beat over the head with billy clubs, fire hoses on them, dogs being released. You know, this is a human problem. So, yes, it is inclusive. And many of these athletes feel the passion because they come from those communities and have been doing the work for years. A number of years ago, I worked with the NBA, NFL Players Association, presenting humbly the J.B. Awards, athletes who were working meaningfully to strengthen the fabric of their communities. They've been doing the work, but everybody else needs to get on board now and follow that. And it's for the right reasons, MARGARET.

MARGARET BRENNAN: A tectonic shift. Thank you very much, J.B.. 

BROWN: Yes. Yes, ma'am. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And I want to tell all of our viewers that next Sunday, J.B. will be hosting a five hour special about the courage of Black athletes in the face of injustice. It's called "Portraits in Black." It will be broadcast here on CBS at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be right back.

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