Chiefs receiver Chris Conley doubtless is proud to be an NFL player, but that’s not necessarily how he most identifies.
His Twitter bio, for instance, describes himself first as “Lover of Christ, Film Maker, Writer, Musician.”
His independence is evident in many things he does, including the making of “Star Wars: Retribution,” a 26-minute movie that became a YouTube blockbuster with 570,000-some views.
Still, when it comes to the national anthem, the flag and other symbols of the United States that have been the subject of much discussion the last few weeks, Conley wants to hear the perspective of his father, Charles, a retired U.S. Air Force veteran of 20 years.
So after San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick began to take a knee in protest of racial oppression and the rogue police who blemish the work of so many virtuous ones, Conley called home.
He wanted to know if his father considered taking a knee or other similar displays “disrespectful to you … (and) disrespectful to the flag.”
“‘Whether I like it or not, my time of service and everything I did, what we fought for, was so people had the right to do that,’” Conley recalled his father saying. “That spoke volumes to me.
“He wanted to say regardless of what people think and how they feel, people were overseas fighting because we have freedoms like that in America. And the more we try to suppress those people and control everyone, then (the more) we start looking like the countries that we don’t want to be like.”
All of this combined is what informs the measured and sensitive but candid approach Conley has been taking to the issues.
His degree of thoughtfulness is such that he’s emerging as a voice of conscience on the team despite being only in his second year.
You could hear it in his deft articulation of why the Chiefs locked arms during the national anthem after first responders unfurled the massive U.S. flag across the field at Arrowhead Stadium before the Sept. 11 opener against San Diego.
They were not protesting but calling attention to issues, he would note, a subtle but substantial distinction he wanted known. “We didn’t want to alienate anyone,” he said then. “We wanted to respect everyone’s differences and everyone’s beliefs.”
You could read as much on Conley’s Twitter timeline on Tuesday in the wake of the shooting by Tulsa, Okla., police of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man seen with his hands in the air on multiple video angles before falling to the ground dead after he approached his car.
“Can’t believe I just heard about #(Terence Crutcher). Let’s be better America,” Conley posted in one.
“Sad that some people are more upset with @Kaepernick7 protest and (the breakup of) Brad and Angelina than the loss of a life,” he wrote in another.
After tactfully engaging with some followers, including to specify that he wasn’t shunning the flag, Conley added: “The flag has some not so great things associated with it too. I am from a military family. I respect our country but we can’t be dismissive.”
Conley knows he speaks at a time when some want such talk muted, and question the appropriateness of the athletes speaking up.
Also on Wednesday, Seattle’s Richard Sherman used most of his time at the podium to make a statement about why the Seahawks are going to keep locking arms during the anthem even as he acknowledged some don’t want to hear it.
The insinuation by those not wanting to listen is, hey, you can perform for us, but how dare you use your status to actually express yourself about matters of principle.
“There’s a lot of people who say, ‘Hey, you’re an athlete, sit down and be quiet.’ I don’t believe in that at all,” said Conley, who was born in Turkey and spent much of his upbringing living on and being schooled on military bases. “I think anyone has their right to free speech. Whether I’m an athlete or not, whether I make this paycheck or not, I still have an opinion.
“And outside of my job, when I’m not wearing that helmet and that jersey, I’m still a person of color in this country. So everyone’s opinion does matter, and everyone’s opinion is different.”
Mostly, Conley’s is simply this:
“I just want people to be as concerned about people affected by events as they are about symbols or objects,” he said. “Because my belief is when everything fades and everything’s gone, people are what matter. People are what matter, and souls will be what’s left.”
He feels all of this deeply, which is why he is a leading voice and participant in the Chiefs’ stated intent to help heal relationships between authorities and the community, as they stated they would after the season opener.
While others declined comment last week, Conley said that the entire team had met with what he then described generically as “local officials” to see what could be learned and how he and his teammates could help.
On Wednesday, he said they hadn’t “met with police again” yet, though the implication remained that they will.
He also said receiver Albert Wilson had accompanied him to Bishop Sullivan Center the day before to put smiles on people’s faces and “love on them a little bit,” backing up their “Catch A Break” fund to help teenage boys in the foster-care system.
Because he’s a reflective person, it’s not hard for Conley to reconcile appreciation for his country and those who serve it … and that those jobs are dangerous and complicated … and that the issue of gratuitous brutality is a problem that must be further addressed.
“There are some people who think that we should have this kind of patriotism and nationalism that doesn’t allow anyone to speak out against the country,” he said. “I think that’s wrong.
“I believe that there needs to be respect for those people who’ve lost their lives (trying) to protect this country; yes, I believe that.
“But I don’t think that our country is beyond becoming better.”
Neither do his father and other family members who are active in the military.
“They have a unique perspective, because not only are they military, but they are persons of color and they’ve seen some of these things done,” he said. “Some of them have happened to my dad, so he understands why people are upset.
“Maybe (kneeling in protest) is not the way he would go about it, but he says that he fought for people to have that right.”