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Kimberley A. Martin: Stephen Hauschka on racial equality, a cause close to his heart

Kimberley A. Martin

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Stephen Hauschka has it all now.

A new city. A new team. A new home.

And, finally, a new baby.

The Bills kicker never anticipated making a 2,600-mile cross-country trek to Western New York. Nor did he ever envision laying down roots in Buffalo. But here is where’s he’s found happiness, both personally and professionally. And here is where he found a new purpose: trying to ensure that his son, Jones, grows up in a far better world.

Hauschka spoke for nearly 20 minutes after practice Thursday about his transition to the Bills, how head coach Sean McDermott is building something “amazing” and “special,” and his genuine appreciation of the area (“I’m blessed to be here in Buffalo. What a great city to raise our first son in.”). And during our candid conversation about life and football, the 32-year-old opened up about another topic close to his heart: racial equality.

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He isn’t sure how, but he wants to be a part of the solution — whatever it is, however long it takes. He knows his primary job is to be as close to perfect on the field. But he’s also adamant about wanting “to do more” off it to advance the discussion on social issues.

And in the age of social media and “stick to sports” trolls, Hauschka’s insights are welcome — and very much needed.

“I think a lot of white people don’t understand it and are afraid to be involved,” he said. “And I think it’s important for white people to see there is inequality everywhere in the country right now, and in the world.”

His words came on the heels of a Yahoo Sports report that former Bills receiver Anquan Boldin, Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett and the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins and Torrey Smith sent a memo last month to commissioner Roger Goodell and executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent seeking “overt league support” in their campaigns for racial equality and criminal justice reform. They also called for “an endorsement for an activism awareness month.”

“I’d love to see my son grow up in a place where everyone is treated equally,” said Hauschka, who added that he supports the premise of the Black Lives Matter movement, being that “everyone should be treated equally.”

The kicker speaks from a place of experience —  and 10 seasons spent in NFL locker rooms in Baltimore, Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, and now Buffalo. Those experiences, he said, helped shaped his perspective. “So that’s where it comes from: a place of love and caring and wanting to see the world a better place,” he said. “I don’t have all the answers, I don’t even pretend to. But I am open to talking about it and I am open to learning about it with the hopes that one day, either our generation or future generations, can improve racial inequality and how people are treated around the world.”

Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka having strong camp

By no means is Hauschka — the fifth-most accurate kicker in NFL history (he has hit 86.9 percent of his field goal attempts) — looking to be the face of a cause. Nor is he seeking the spotlight for himself. He speaks from a place of awareness, of compassion and “of vision for the future.” And he's well aware that he is one of the few white faces in a predominantly black NFL to publicly voice an opinion on these issues.

Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long garnered attention last month for putting his arm around Jenkins, while Jenkins raised his fist during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” After the game, Long told reporters: “I think it’s a good time for people that look like me to be here for people that are fighting for equality.”

Browns tight end Seth DeValve, whose wife is black, became the first white player to kneel during the anthem and Seahawks center Justin Britt showed solidarity for the cause when he placed a hand on the shoulder of teammate Michael Bennett, who was kneeling during the anthem.

Hauschka said Thursday that he has never been asked about his personal views on social issues. Nor has he voiced them publicly until now.

It’s “tricky” being a socially conscious athlete, he noted, adding: “Even great causes can be a distraction for players. I’ve seen that happen before.”

But even as he maintained his focus is on football, Hauschka voiced frustration with the one-sided discussion on issues that affect people of color. Those types of conversations occurred frequently during his six seasons in Seattle — especially last year, he said —  and “I was one of the players involved in that. I think it’s important for white players to stay involved in the conversation.”

Hauschka traded text messages over the summer with Bennett and reached out after Bennett alleged he was a victim of police misconduct and racial profiling by the Las Vegas police, which briefly held him as a possible suspect in a casino shooting. Hauschka doesn’t know all the details of that night, but he does know his friend. “Just to see Mike’s reaction and to feel like he’s really threatened. That’s powerful,” he said. “It’s powerful because he’s not scared of much.”

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As of Thursday afternoon, Hauschka hadn’t yet read the contents of the memo sent to the NFL, but he believes it’s a “positive step in trying to unify the league in a cause of supporting racial equality.

“I think it’s great to see something that started as a protest evolve into something that’s a cause that everyone can buy into. That’s what I would love to see happen: for people on all different sides of this issue to really see it, understand it, be able to talk about it, so that we can move forward.”

Since arriving in Buffalo, he has spent his time getting acclimated to his new surroundings, his new teammates and preparing for fatherhood. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t also consider the world around him.

Hauschka welcomes debate and different points of view. But he can’t see how anyone could argue against a father wanting his child to grow up in a place where everyone is treated equally.

And his hope is that his son, Jones Theodore Hauschka, won’t recognize the world his father tells him stories about in the future.

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