Lorenzo Alexander knew backlash was coming.
When the Buffalo Bills’ linebacker joined 11 other teammates in taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem last month prior to a game against the Denver Broncos, he expected angry responses.
Sitting in the stands that day, Bills season-ticket holder C.J. Long was one of those who was frustrated by the silent protest.
“But at the end of the game and on the ride home, I was listening to the radio and they replayed Lorenzo Alexander's postgame press conference, and he said a couple things that struck a chord with me,” Long said. “One of them was he wanted to start a positive dialogue and open up a conversation about some of the issues they were protesting about.”
So instead of doing something rash like cancelling his season tickets, Long went home and wrote a letter, “outlining why I disagreed with the forum which they were choosing to protest, but also laying out why I respected their right to do so and then hoping we could find some sort of common ground.”
That letter got to Alexander at One Bills Drive, and a couple weeks later the linebacker reached out to Long on social media. Alexander had started to write a response, he said, but thought that the conversation would be better to have face to face.
So on Tuesday morning, Alexander and Long did just that, meeting at Spot Coffee.
“He had written me a letter just kind of voicing his opinion about the protest. Outside of that, he said he didn't agree with me about everything, but just wanted to have a discussion and get a little perspective from my end and maybe offer something,” Alexander said Wednesday. “Obviously I've wanted to talk to somebody from the opposite side. A lot of people on Twitter yell at you, or I've got a couple angry letters as well, so I never want to meet with those people, because you're not going to have a conversation. I liked his demeanor about it, the tone of his letter.”
What followed was an hourlong conversation that, Long said, “didn’t really center much on the kneeling.”
“The majority of it was more focused on how we could unify around certain issues that most people generally will agree upon, like wanting better education for the next generation,” he said. “We talked about investing in education, kids not having enough books. We covered a wide range of topics, as I imagine you could guess in the hour that we were there, but we also took some time to get to know each other as well, our backgrounds, where each one of us came from, and how that's impacted our world view.”
Long, 25, is a native of Gastonia, N.C., a suburb of Charlotte. He moved to Buffalo about 3 1/2 years ago after graduating from Erskine College. That Alexander would take the time to not only respond to his letter, but also engage him in a discussion was greatly appreciated by the lifelong Bills fan.
“He was total class from the very beginning. Extremely respectful of my point of view. I was extremely respectful of his,” Long said. “I told him I really appreciated that somebody in his position who has many different things on his plate and many different opportunities that he could jump at, that he would take the time to sit down and discuss that with me in ways that we can be proactive, it really speaks volume about his character and the type of man he is.
“We also spent some time talking about his kids, and it was obvious from the conversation that a lot of the actions that he takes, he wants to be a role model for not only his children, but other young adults in the Buffalo community. ... I can't really say enough about how it went.”
Alexander likewise left the conversation feeling like it was productive.
“I was impressed with his knowledge about a lot of things,” Alexander said of Long, “and more so his eagerness about, ‘Ok, how can I help? I don't want to just say you're doing it wrong, you should do it this way. I actually want to be a part of it.’ ”
So that’s exactly what will happen next. Both Long and Alexander said they plan to have a followup meeting in the next few weeks to hammer out the details of how best they can bring people in Western New York together.
“It's really neat that we were able to meet and have the conversation,” Long said. “I really appreciate Lorenzo offering to start a conversation and opening a dialogue. Now I want to turn that into some type of positive action.”
Story topics: Lorenzo Alexander