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Josh Norman Q&A
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Former OU receiver shares his thoughts
and prayers on the issue of racial injustice
Three weeks after George Floyd was killed in front of several witnesses during what should have been a routine arrest by Minneapolis police officers, Josh Norman still had not seen the graphic video that sparked protests and Black Lives Matter rallies all across the country.
He read about the incident and talked to people about it, but he could not bring himself to watch officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on Floyd's neck and literally squeeze the life out of him.
Norman has seen it before -- too many times.
"I couldn't bring myself to watch it," he said.
"My first introduction to it was seeing the still image of it, and I read someone's description of what happened. I broke down in tears just reading the description, especially when they said he was calling for his mother."
Not exactly the type of admission one might expect from a guy who was listed at a healthy 6-foot-2 and 238 pounds during his four seasons as a tight end battling middle linebackers in the National Football League.
But Josh Norman isn't just some former tough-guy athlete who sits around reminiscing about the four letters he earned at Oklahoma or the key role he played as a wide receiver on the Sooners' 2000 national championship football team.
A nice bit of history, for sure. But he's so much more than all of that.
Since retiring from football, Norman has spent the past 15 years demonstrating a vast array of other skills, ranging from top-notch music producer to successful high school and college football coach to bachelor's degree-earning student to fledgling wings chef. He married the former miss Jessica Leidy in 2018 and he is currently working on his master's degree in business administration.
This fall, Norman is slated to start his first season as head football coach at Southmoore High School, and he's even considering opening up his own Oklahoma City-based restaurant at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Not bad for a humble black kid from Midland, Texas, just trying to make his way in the world.
Ironically, Norman's hometown has been dealing with its own racially-charged controversy after a civil rights attorney contended that a 21-year-old black man there was targeted and wrongfully arrested by local police. Norman's brother, John, is the District 2 City Councilman in Midland and he has advocated giving minority citizens a bigger voice in situations like this.
"I feel like, for me, what has happened nationally has been compounded by what has happened back in Midland. There is a lot going on there and with my brother being the councilman in that district, it kind of hits home with me," said Norman. "The combination of all of that has really been hard to see and understand."
Sooner Spectator editor Jay C. Upchurch talked with Norman in early June to get his perspective on many of the things that have transpired since George Floyd's arrest and subsequent death on May 25.
Sooner Spectator: How have you handled all of the thoughts and emotions that have been swirling around you in the aftermath of the George Floyd slaying?
Josh Norman: That first week after it happened was really hard, but the second week was tremendously difficult for me -- extremely emotional in so many ways. I couldn't seem to get the hurt and the pain of the whole situation out of my mind. I cried numerous times as it continued to weigh heavy on my heart. I tried to work to keep my mind off of it, but I just couldn't get past it. My thoughts keep coming back to that.
SS: The collection of emotions from people has ranged from anger and sadness to hopelessness and fear, and everything in between. What elements of that mix have found their way into your thinking?
Norman: Well, I'm just not an angry person, in general, so there have been very few times that I would say that I was angry. More than anything, I've been heavy-hearted and hurt. Those are the main emotions that I have dealt with. I was talking to my mother-in-law the other day about personality types and things like that. And she and I are the exact same type on the Myers-Briggs (personality) test. And one thing about our personality type is that we carry the burden of other people's emotions. So there was a point during that second week that I basically had to log off of social media and just decompress because I found myself reading all of the posts about other people's adverse experiences with the police, and it just started to wear on me and tear me down. There are so many people who have dealt with bad situations and were fortunate enough to live to tell about it.
SS: None of that stuff makes you just a little mad?
Norman: I can honestly say that my faith controls that side of me. It really does. I feel like my relationship with the Lord has a restraint on that part of me. I'm so thankful to have that because without it, God only knows what it might lead me to in times like this. I totally understand the anger that some people experience. Totally. They see people who are constantly oppressed, constantly stepped on and constantly degraded-- and it seems like they can never get ahead. It's one step forward and two steps back. And then you see those same people getting killed on camera and it seems like there is no justice, and it brings you to the point of just wanting to scream.
I suppose if there is one thing that does make me mad, it's when people try to justify something like (George Floyd being killed). Or people who are so aloof when it comes to dealing with these types of terrible situations and the negative impact it has on black communities.
SS: We talk about the progress that has been made over time where race relations are concerned, but then this horrific situation plays out for the world to see. Does that make you lose faith in people?
Norman: No, it doesn't. The truth is, not everybody is like that. I was having a conversation with someone the other day and I told him that I felt the Midland police department has lost the trust of the people on the East side and South side of Midland. And he was upset because he felt like I was saying that all of the officers who work for that police department are bad. But that's not what I was saying at all. The truth is, there are only a few bad ones. But like Chris Rock said in a very comical way recently-- there are just some professions where you simply can't afford to have any bad ones. Even if one of the commercial airlines has one bad pilot out of every 10, that's a really bad situation for a lot of people. It's the same thing with law enforcement officers, you can't afford to have even one bad one because we all have seen what can happen. When people are dying and people are being murdered, something has got to change. I have faith that people want to help make that change happen.
SS: In your mind, how do we begin to actually change the culture and the way some people think about people of color?
Norman: Well, you're never going to change everyone. There has always been some form of racism and bigotry in the world, and I hate to say that there probably always will be. But that doesn't mean we have to stand by and not do anything about it. One way is to vote your conscience and what's in your heart, and not base your vote on how it is going to affect you financially. I know that's a hard one. I have friends who I know genuinely care about this situation. But when they go to vote, they are going to be swayed by their economic beliefs before anything else. I recently had a conversation with one of my friends who I love dearly and trust with all of my heart, but who I know has that conflict when they step into the voting booth. I just told them straight up that I don't believe that is the Christian thing to do, knowing that you are going to put economics over social justice.
SS: Having played sports much of your life and been part of that culture of diversity and inclusion -- do you believe society can learn any important lessons from sports?
Norman: I definitely believe there are certain principles in sports that apply to everyday life. Truthfully, I have probably played with some guys in the past who had extreme racist viewpoints and who had very bigoted viewpoints. However, there is something positive to be said for working with people who have different views than yourself. There is something to be said about a leader who is able to bring people together from different backgrounds and with different views to try to find a way accomplish a common goal. And that's kind of where I feel like we are right now -- how do we all come together to find a way to make this work better? You might believe (Colin) Kaepernick's kneeling is disrespectful to the flag, while I believe he is kneeling to bring awareness to social injustice. How do we discuss this without being mean and hateful toward each other? That's what has to happen if we want to earn each other's respect, even if we do disagree.
SS: When you are looking at the ugliness of racism and social injustice, what is the first thing that comes to mind as a potential solution?
Norman: There is really no one thing that comes to mind immediately. It's such a complex condition of the heart. And we use the term 'racism' a lot of the time out of context. We use it often when what we are really talking about bigotry. Racism is a condition that describes the power and ability to control people through systems. When we start talking about racism and social injustice, you look at the ideology of someone who wants to use the word 'thugs' instead of 'protesters.' How do we change that? You look at the ideology of a place that had a system in place going back to the Jim Crow days where someone like my grandfather -- a man I knew for 25 years of my life -- went to the war and came home and couldn't even purchase a home in certain areas. The effects of those laws can still be seen and felt generations later. Obviously, finding solutions to some of those issues isn't easy. It's going to take people sitting down and having serious and heartfelt discussions with each other.
SS: The last few days, you have seen social media posts quoting Dr. Martin Luther King and others echoing the sentiments of Malcolm X. When you start to examine their words and search for answers, where do love and compassion fit into the equation?
Norman: I think it starts with defining what love is and how we can apply it. When we talk about love, what does that really mean? Personally, I prefer to take on the Biblical definition. Love the Lord with all of your heart, mind and soul. Likewise, love your neighbor as yourself. Look at 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 where it says love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. That's the way I define love. Love endures all things. Love never fails. Love conquers all. I think it is especially important in the context in which we are speaking -- the verse says, 'It does not rejoice in wrongdoings, but rejoices with truth.' We can all be patient and kind and work and operate with humility, and bear all things and be hopeful and endure a lot of things -- but in the end, we have to be able to rejoice with truth. My faith drives me to seek the truth. And I have a very strong conviction to not just sit by idly and not speak out. Like the Bible says, 'It's an anchor for the soul.' So for me, the teachings and the word of God are the driving force in everything I do. And love is obviously a key component in those teachings, and in how we all can try to find answers to questions about social injustice.
SS: Having watched the protests and rallies in so many U.S. cities, what were your thoughts when law enforcement officers in various places decided to kneel in a show of support?
Norman: I felt like that was a big step. It was like a huge display of humanity. Anytime I see protesters and police officers together, I always want to talk to the officers and remind them that they are human, too. I understand that they have a job to do and if people break the law then they have to respond accordingly. But all too often, it seems like they respond with so much violence and force. We have to tap into the human aspect of those situations more.
SS: Are you hopeful that racial injustice can become a thing of the past?
Norman: I am always hopeful. Always. Over the past couple of weeks, a lot of my white friends have reached out to me and said they don't know exactly what to do, but just wanted to let me know they love me. I posted a note on Facebook that read, 'Deep, meaningful, non-profitable relationships with people of color is a good start.' If you have someone like that in your life, have a conversation about race with them. If you have someone like that in your life but feel you can't have that conversation, your relationship probably isn't as deep and meaningful as you think. And if you don't have someone like that in your life, you're probably more influenced by racism than you think.
SS: Final thoughts?
Norman: My worldview is shaped and defined by my Christian faith. And contrary to popular belief, the Christian faith is very complex. As Christians, we are called to act with compassion, called mourn with those who mourn, called to hope, called to be truth seekers and truth tellers, called to seek justice, called to abhor what is evil, called to hold on to what is good, love with brotherly affection, called to bless those who persecute you, called to love our enemies, called to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep -- just to name a few. All of that brings on a burden of so many emotions. But it's our faith in Christ that allows us to cast those burdens on Him. In the end, there is always hope because of what Christ has done. And honestly, it's knowing that this is temporary that gives me hope for eternity with Him. And I'll close with 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 as a comfort to those who may be struggling, 'We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.'
As for me, my hope is in the Lord.
(Editor's Note: This interview appears in the June-July issue of Sooner Spectator. To read more or to subscribe, call 405-364-4515)