When WWE superstar Randy Orton tweeted in support of the Black Lives Matter movement a couple weeks ago, it caused many in the professional wrestling community to do a double take. After all, Orton had previously been outspoken against former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem, tweeting in 2016, "Americans are dying. Pigment of skin doesn't matter. American people matter."
So, with previously expressed views that fell in with the "all lives matter" camp known throughout the community, Orton tweeting "#BlackLivesMatter" on May 29 came as a surprise. He doubled down later that day, responding to a fan that he "finally realized that until #BlackLivesMatter," all lives cannot.
During a conversation with CBS Sports, Orton explained how he came to that realization, chalking his change of mind up to a decision to start listening and looking at what is really going on.
"When Kaepernick was kneeling, I looked at it as disrespecting the American flag and that he was disrespecting the servicemen and women who fight for our freedom and our free speech and come home in a coffin when they give the ultimate sacrifice. That coffin draped in an American flag. I think I went on Booker T's radio show and even said those things and I believed them," Orton said.
"It took me a little time, but what I had to do was realize, Kaepernick, he wasn't shitting on the flag. He wasn't disrespecting the people that have given their lives for our freedom. He was taking a stand against police brutality. As a white guy, I don't see it. But then I started listening to my black brothers and sisters, especially the ones I've known for years and some for more than a decade. I was hearing first-hand accounts of interactions with cops that took advantage of the situation and the power they had because they maybe felt a certain way about the color of someone's skin. That's when the lightbulb went off.
"I'm embarrassed to say it, but it took me a little while but I get it. What I said on Twitter, I stand behind. If anyone doesn't agree with me, I think they need to do more digging. Go look at Big E's Twitter from a week ago, go look at Xavier Woods' Twitter, go look at things Kofi said, that Mark Henry said, that Shelton said, that R-Truth said. If you read what they're saying and try to put yourself in their shoes for even just a minute, you're going to see right now that it's not fair. All lives do matter, but like I said on Twitter, until black lives matter, all lives can't matter. My only regret is that it took me a little bit and some soul searching to see that."
The death of George Floyd, who was in the custody of four now-former Minneapolis police officers after being accused of purchasing cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill, has stirred nationwide protests that have been ongoing for more than two weeks. The four ex-officers involved in his arrest now face charges, including a second-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
The attention paid to the Floyd case has brought attention to more videos and stories of police brutality, fueling further protests and calls for changes to policing tactics.
Orton said it was not only hearing stories from the black men and women in his life but actually digging into the issue led him to realize he had a responsibility to use his platform to help create change.
"The more that social media has allowed us to see these horrific videos -- and it wasn't just George Floyd. I've seen so many after I did a little digging," Orton said. "You realize it is tough to be a black person in this country, and we've got a ways to go before all lives truly matter. I think what we have to do is make sure black lives matter.
"And I think white people, like me, especially with a platform, saying that? Sitting on your laurels and not saying anything? I don't think that's helping anything. You need to get out there and get in this conversation. You need to insert yourself. That is what I was trying to do."