U.S. Markets closed
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Influencers with Andy Serwer: Emmanuel Acho

In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

In this episode of Influencers, Andy speaks with former NFL player and 'Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man' author, Emmanuel Acho, about opening a dialogue about race and addressing the issue of racism in America.

Video Transcript

ANDY SERWER: America is in the midst of a racial reckoning, fresh off of a wave of protests in the summer and a divisive election in the fall. With tensions at a boil, opponents dig in, and dialogue stops. Emmanuel Acho wants to keep the conversation going. The Fox Sports host and former NFL linebacker invites people, especially white people, to talk about race on his YouTube show, "Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man."

His 65 million views and counting have made the show an instant success. And with help from Oprah Winfrey, he just released a book by the same title. On this episode of "Influencers," Emmanuel Acho joins me to talk about which questions white people are afraid to ask, why he rejects cancel culture, and whether the perception of the NFL will change after the Trump presidency.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Influencers." I'm Andy Serwer. And welcome to our guest, Emmanuel Acho, who is a former NFL player, host of Fox Sports 1 "Speak For Yourself," and author of the new book, "Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man." Emmanuel, great to see you.

EMMANUEL ACHO: Andy, good to be seen. Good to be talking to you, my friend.

ANDY SERWER: Thank you. So you started this off, conversations-- "Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man" as a YouTube show, and it amassed more than 65 million views from when you started it in June. What were you hoping to achieve when you started that, and why do you think it's resonated so widely?

EMMANUEL ACHO: Man, great question, Andy. I was hoping to act as a bridge for racial reconciliation. Andy, I went to an affluent white school from grades five through 12, and I was immersed in white culture. But then, Andy, I got offered a scholarship to play football at the University of Texas, and then I go to the NFL. So now I'm immersed in Black culture.

Andy, what I've realized is there is a communication difference between white people, white culture, and Black people, Black culture. Because I've been immersed in both cultures, I understand, Andy, there is a difference. And that communication barrier is playing a factor in our racial tension right now, a huge factor. Sure, we all speak English. But make no mistake about it, there are differences in ways we communicate and interpret things.

So I said, you know what, Andy? I'm going to preemptively answer questions that I know my white brothers and sisters have but either are too afraid to ask or don't have a Black person to ask or Black people to ask, such as, wait a second, how come white people can't say the n-word but Black people can? Wait, Emmanuel, but what about Black-on-Black crime in Chicago? OK, what's this concept of white privilege?

But Emmanuel, what about reverse racism? Black people get a Black History Month. White people don't get a White History Month. OK, but isn't affirmative action just the same thing as, like, the Jim Crow laws? So I preemptively said, you know what, Andy? Let me answer so many of these questions that are leaving my white brothers and sisters in ignorance.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, and then you turned it into this book right here, which has been really resonating with people as well. And I've been-- I'm in the midst of it right now, and I love the question format. Because you're right, so many people-- white people-- are asking those questions right now, Emmanuel. And-- so are you getting the kind of responses that you hoped to? In other words, are people saying, oh, you know, now I do understand? And how are you--

EMMANUEL ACHO: Oh.

ANDY SERWER: --getting that communicated to you?

EMMANUEL ACHO: I love that. I really am, Andy. And the best response I got was week one into the episode-- it was a sweet woman named Lynn, 73-year-old white woman. She said dear Emmanuel, I grew up in the South in rural Alabama in the '40s and '50s. I didn't go to school with any Negroes, she said. But after watching your episode, I realized my heart still needs to change. Please don't give up on me yet. I love you, my brother and my son.

And Andy, after I got that email, I said, wait a second. The hearts are changing. Hearts are turning. This isn't about clicks. This isn't about likes. This isn't about shares. This is about influencing this generation and the next generation.

So let's write a book, which can be passed down from generation to generation and affect true, meaningful change. I don't just want the spoken word, which is sizzle. I need the written word, which is substantive. And that's what will really make a change.

So the appetite, Andy, has been insatiable it seems like. The more I give people, the more they want. Emmanuel, make the episodes longer. I wish you could expand on this. And so that's how we're going right now.

ANDY SERWER: You know, on the one hand, we're seeing white and Black people come together. But unfortunately, it's on one side of the political aisle. You know, you're seeing a lot of white people at Black Lives Matters protests, more than a lot of people anticipated, you know, in Connecticut and Michigan and Pennsylvania. On the other hand, you have the Proud Boys, a lot of Trump supporters who might not see eye to eye with this still. How can we bring this country together?

EMMANUEL ACHO: Well, I would say the first thing, Andy, is we all have to collectively get out of denial. I said this before to Oprah when her and I were talking. Denial, spelled D-E-N-I-A-L-- don't even know I am lying. And you can't fix a problem, Andy, that you don't know exists.

So how can we all collectively move forward? Acknowledge a problem exists. You mentioned it at the top of this. I'm a sports guy. Let me talk sports with y'all real quick. In the NFL, the reason that so many people can be of different races, different religions, different backgrounds, Andy, and still come together is because they're fighting a common enemy.

When I walk out onto the field, which is 53 and 1/3 wide and 100 yards long, I remember that, wait a second, me and my brother to my left and my right are fighting a common enemy. So I don't care what my brother looks like. I don't care who my brother worships Because we're on a goal to beat the opponent.

In America, Andy, we haven't yet realized we're fighting a common enemy of oppression. We're fighting a common enemy of racism. We're fighting a common enemy of systemic injustice. And as a result, we're bickering with our brothers and sisters to our left and our right instead of realizing, no, it's us versus oppression. It's not Black versus white. It's not white versus Black. It's good versus evil. It's love versus hate.

ANDY SERWER: Do you think we can get there? I mean, well, let me hold that one for a second. Social media-- I mean, a lot of people are suggesting that's making the situation-- the divisiveness worse. What's your take on that?

EMMANUEL ACHO: Social media does two things. It can make the divisiveness worse because it gives everyone a platform, and they can also hide. And so it gives people a platform that-- but they can also maintain anonymity, and that's the worst part. Like, if everyone on social media had to put their actual first and last name, it'd be a completely different agenda.

But social media also has some pros. Again, my-- this-- my show, my concept, my book, it wouldn't have occurred without social media. And I know that that has done plenty of good. So with social media, you have to understand, there's bad, but there is also some good involved.

ANDY SERWER: All right, let's get back to that other question, Emmanuel. How optimistic are you about this systemic change that we're trying to undertake?

EMMANUEL ACHO: I'm optimistic, Andy, because I finally realized that hearts are ready to change and that it's not so much that I finally realized. The hearts are finally ready to change. After the murder of George Floyd, Andy, it was as though our white brothers and sisters were like, wait a second, maybe Black people haven't been lying this whole time. Maybe there is a problem. Maybe, like, this racial injustice and racially-motivated incidents-- maybe it's not just a coincidence.

And so I think the harshness of that tragedy of George Floyd, it woke everyone up. And now it's just a matter of-- now that people are awake and now that the intentions are there, is there direction? See, Andy, intention without direction is meaningless. So there's now intention. And I, with this book and with my series, I'm trying to give people direction.

ANDY SERWER: I hear you there. Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has criticized NFL players. Do you think the perception of the league and its players will shift after Donald Trump leaves office?

EMMANUEL ACHO: It's a good question. I think that the perception of the players-- I don't know that it's so much affected by the presidency. What I mean by that is one man nor one woman should be able to dictate your feelings and emotions on oppression, injustice, and racism. Like, these are historical contexts with generational meanings.

So what one person tells you, whether it's Emmanuel Acho, whether it's a president, whoever it is, that shouldn't completely dictate your feelings about something. Do your homework. Do your research. Let your own empathy be created through your own understanding. So I don't think one person can single-handedly dictate the emotions about an-- about a collective system or organization.

ANDY SERWER: You've said the NFL has the right intentions but needs to take it in the right direction. What concrete steps do you think the NFL should take to support the fight for racial justice?

EMMANUEL ACHO: Well, the first thing is everybody has to understand the fight. I sat down with commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell. Yeah, he's the commissioner. But to a degree, he can have all the authority and no power at times.

Remember, there are 32 organizations, 32 different cities-- different teams, not 32 different cities but enough different cities. The need in the different cities is different. So it can't be just one one-size-fits-all type of mantra. The need in Dallas is different than the need in Los Angeles, which is different than the need in Phoenix or Glendale, Arizona.

The individual owners have to collectively realize, what does my city need? But how does that start? It starts by talking to your players. Roger Goodell said, yeah, I heard about the injustice, but it wasn't until I went on a ride-along that I really understood it.

These owners, they're hearing things. Oh, I see my players are kneeling, raising a fist. But do they really understand it? It has to go from head knowledge to heart knowledge.

ANDY SERWER: And when you had Roger Goodell on, Emmanuel, I think it was in August, he offered an apology to Colin Kaepernick. But Colin Kaepernick still has not been signed by a team. Is this collusion? Do you think he'll ever go back to the NFL?

EMMANUEL ACHO: No, I don't think Colin Kaepernick will play in the NFL, but there are so many variables to this. What do I mean by that? In the NFL, every organization runs a cost-benefit analysis. How much will it cost us to have you on our organization, and how much will you benefit us?

So if you're an NFL organization, especially four years removed, in regards to Colin Kaepernick, now you're weighing the risk-reward. OK, he'll come in, and obviously, he'll be anywhere from a second to a third-string quarterback right now. Is having Colin Kaepernick as the second or third-string quarterback worth the questions that every player will now get asked, that we will now get asked, and is it worth the distraction that the media will create-- not Colin Kaepernick necessarily, but the media will create.

So because of that, I don't think that Colin Kaepernick would get signed. I also think that-- I don't know, sometimes there's an impasse. Remember, let's talk Cam Newton for a second. Cam Newton didn't want to be a backup quarterback. He wanted to be a starter. And as a result, there was only one team that wanted to make him a starter.

Eric Reid, someone who has been proudly known to be standing by Colin Kaepernick, very justifiably so, the Washington Football Team, they offered him a place on their practice squad. Eric Reid turned it down because Eric Reid views himself as a starter. And so just because you want to play doesn't necessarily mean that the position that will be offered to you that you do, in fact, want. So become about the nuances regarding that, I personally don't see Colin Kaepernick playing in the NFL.

ANDY SERWER: So was the situation where the owners didn't want him for a while and now Father Time has entered into the equation as well a little bit, perhaps, too.

EMMANUEL ACHO: I would say it's a combination of everything. It's the owners don't want what the media will bring with that, number one. And number two, this is so detailed and it's so multifaceted. But until the owners can also get their fans to understand it wasn't about disrespecting the flag, it was about a just cause, then the owners, who are always worried about bottom line, who are always worried about their dollars now are going to run the risk of losing their dollars for the sake of Colin Kaepernick. And unfortunately, owners just aren't that selfless. Like, you don't become a billionaire by being selfless. That's not how it works.

ANDY SERWER: And as you were saying too, Emmanuel, different cities, different owners, different politics, it's all--

EMMANUEL ACHO: Correct.

ANDY SERWER: --part of that equation, as you said. You mentioned the 32 owners. Only two of them are people of color, and only three non-interim head coaches are Black. Wow. It seems like there's a long way to go there, too, right?

EMMANUEL ACHO: Yeah, but the issue, Andy, is that so many people think the NFL is a meritocracy. However hard you work, you'll earn your success. It's not. It's really based off nepotism and cronyism. Nepotism, you hire your family. And cronyism, you hire your friends.

Historically, if the NFL was founded by white men and white men are hiring their family-- nepotism, white men. They're hiring their friends-- cronyism, white men. So how do you think that the NFL will change if it's historically founded by white men who are looking out for other white men? It won't.

And so that's why it's not a coincidence when you see only three out of 32 coaches full time who began the season or whatever the statistic may be are Black. That's not a coincidence. That's just the way in which our world at large works, and the NFL is a reflection of that.

ANDY SERWER: You're talking about these owners, these white men, and a vast majority of their political donations went to Republicans. And some of those politicians-- or many of them-- criticized the racial justice protests, including kneeling by NFL players. So this is just part of the politics. You have a lot of Black players and a lot of owners who are white and have, let's just say, not such progressive political perspectives, correct?

EMMANUEL ACHO: Yeah, that's part of the-- the real problem is just a lack of understanding. And that's what-- all of this all boils down to-- the nucleus, the crux of the issue is a lack of understanding. Remember, Roger Goodell, he, for so long, said, I didn't realize what the players were kneeling about.

Like, Colin Kaepernick, he definitely took some missteps, definitely. He would admit that, I would assume. Like, wearing the pig socks? Not a great idea. But at the heart of his issue was protesting systemic injustice and police brutality. What have we seen come to a head in 2020? Police brutality and systemic injustice.

So it-- but it just now took Roger Goodell four years to realize what's really been going on. So imagine how many other people who haven't realized that. Roger Goodell is one of the savviest, smartest, wisest businessmen you'll come across, and he didn't realize what it was about. So how can you expect other people to have figured it out by now? Again, it's all just a communication thing and, to a degree, a denial thing.

ANDY SERWER: Is it hypocritical if owners who, on one hand, support Donald Trump over here and on the other hand, make donations to, say, social justice causes? Or is that just-- is that OK? Can you do that?

EMMANUEL ACHO: Yeah, I don't think it's hypocritical. Again, support who you support. You have to figure out your motivation for your support, but I will never tell someone what to do. I will tell them why I do what I do and why I think what I do is right. But I'm-- I can't criticize or crucify people for supporting who they support.

I would wonder their intentions behind it, and I would ask them the why. But I won't come out and blanketly offer a general statement of you shouldn't support this person or you should support that person. It's really just understanding why you're doing what you're doing.

ANDY SERWER: I'm going to leave the NFL and go over to the WNBA, OK? And ask you about Kelly Loeffler, who is a Republican senator from Georgia who owns the Atlanta Dream, who has criticized Black Lives Matters' protesters. Do you think that league should remove her as an owner?

EMMANUEL ACHO: I don't think cancel culture, which is what that is essentially alluding to, is ever positive. Because if you cancel somebody, you don't give them the opportunity to grow. You don't give them the opportunity to mature. You don't give them the opportunity to evolve.

I think that group-- I think the WNBA should educate her. Now, if she is refusing, like anyone, education, at that point in time, you have to figure out decisions to make. Again, I don't know all the nuances beyond-- with that case, but I don't believe in cancel culture. I believe in education, which breeds growth.

Again, there is a difference between Black Lives Matter the noun, the group, and Black lives matter the adjective, simply saying that Black people's lives do, in fact, matter. You will not and you have not ever heard of Emmanuel Acho speak about Black Lives Matter, the group. What I speak about is saying that Black lives do, in fact, matter. And so I don't believe in canceling people, to answer your question, because there's no growth there.

ANDY SERWER: Right, makes sense. Let me ask you a little bit about college football and whether the players there should be paid. And some people have compared them not being paid, which is-- and they're largely Black players, to sort of a slavery system, or at least being insensitive. Is that right to say?

EMMANUEL ACHO: It's a little hyperbolic-- probably a lot of hyperbolic-- to compare really anything the slavery. The comparison is having workers make minimal to no money while those whom they are working for are benefiting severely off the labor of the employees. As-- it's really the same parallel that's been drawn in the NFL. You have your owners making billions of dollars, and your players, on average, are making $800,000.

Well, you're making $800,000. How could you compare this to slavery? Because look at $800,000 compared to $1 billion, right? That would be-- what, $0.008 or something like that onto the dollar, or $0.00, whatever the case may be. And so it's always hyperbolic when you're making the slavery comparison, but I do think that college players should be paid.

ANDY SERWER: Right, it's just-- it's inequity, whether it's inequity in college or the NFL. What about corporate America, Emmanuel? What can business people learn from sports, in terms of addressing racial injustice?

EMMANUEL ACHO: Business people can learn to create the common goal. What is the common goal? And you don't even have to think about football. Think about the Olympics. That's something we all get behind.

At the Olympics, you'll see people decked out in their USA gear and whatnot cheering on athletes that they don't know-- women's soccer, men's soccer, track and field. Why? Because they're all banding behind the country to win over another country. You figured out the common opponent. What corporations can realize is, wait a second, what is our common goal? And let's all, as a company, get behind our common goal. That's the only way people can look past their differences.

ANDY SERWER: Emmanuel, what about this crazy new business of yours, which is being a sportscaster, right? I mean, that's got to have its own foibles, problems, issues when it comes to race?

EMMANUEL ACHO: Yeah, the-- really, for being a sportscaster is just making sure you don't get boxed in. That's where the beautiful part of me being the host currently with my co-host, another Black man by the name of Marcellus Wiley-- as a former football player, they will just make you an analyst. You're just-- you've got to be an analyst. Break down the tape.

You don't see a lot of Black hosts on TV. I think Marcellus and I might be the first combination of Black hosts for a national show on a daily basis. You don't see a ton of Black hosts. And so for me, it's just a matter of not ever getting boxed in because of my former profession or because of my race.

ANDY SERWER: I used to watch Marcellus Wiley right up the road here. I'm talking to you from Manhattan. He played at Columbia--

EMMANUEL ACHO: Yeah.

ANDY SERWER: --right? Right up here. He was a fantastic football player in the Ivy League, and he was one of the few to get to the NFL, right?

EMMANUEL ACHO: Absolutely, and he'll tell you about it every time he gets the chance. But Marcellus Wiley, he's one of those who really-- he put his value on education, and you're seeing the dividend, having just as successful a career after football as he ever did in football.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, some people have criticized, you know, ESPN for-- which is-- you used to work there-- for sticking to sports and not getting into politics. I mean, it's got to be tougher now to do sports than it was, you know, five or 10 years ago where you could just-- you didn't have to pay attention to the social issues at all, right?

EMMANUEL ACHO: It's tougher to do everything now. The world we live in is just so incredibly sensitive, and people are waiting with stones in hand to cancel you based on one wrong word, one wrong sentence, one wrong thought, one wrong statistic. So you have to be even more careful.

But Andy, I believe to whom much is given, much is required. And so if you're on TV, if you're a sports person, a sports analyst, anything, a lot's been given to you. Therefore, you are required and have a responsibility to, as best you can, be accurate with the information you're given.

ANDY SERWER: And you feel comfortable at Fox? I mean, a lot of people would say, wow, you're-- you have these opinions. And let's be honest here-- because that's what you talked about in your book, ask the tough questions. Fox, not necessarily known for the most progressive company in the world. And you feel like you're able to do your job there?

EMMANUEL ACHO: Yeah, my job is to positively contribute to society. My job beyond being a sports analyst, beyond being a Black man is being a human being, and my job is to leave this world better than I found it. I try not to put myself in compromising positions. And as you'll notice in the book, "Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man," I'm not divisive. Your experience is your expertise. I'm speaking from my experience because that is my expertise.

ANDY SERWER: Is there any way you could take this show on the road? I mean, you've got YouTube. You're on Fox right now. But, like, how else have you thought about, you know, bringing your message across? Can you do, like-- well, we can't do in-person things anymore, so we can forget that idea. But just in terms of consulting with CEOs or going to Washington, testifying before Congress, have you had any opportunities to do that?

EMMANUEL ACHO: Well, I speak-- I've spoken to probably 80 or so companies already via Zooms, diversity and inclusion speaking. You know, I got called by a four-star general to come speak to a branch of our military. And so I've definitely been reached out to by so many companies, and I encourage them to reach out. Like, don't let the blind lead the blind. Figure out the direction you want to go, and couple that with your good intent.

ANDY SERWER: And what kind of aspirations do you have right now for yourself professionally, Emmanuel, in terms of broadcasting or maybe even beyond or doing things in addition to that?

EMMANUEL ACHO: You know, Andy, I don't believe in setting goals. I believe in having an objective with no limitations. I got my masters in sports psychology, and my final paper was on having an objective with no limitations instead of setting goals. So my objective is just to continue changing the world, continue trying to be a bridge for racial reconciliation, continue to try to lead to healing and understanding between my white brothers and sisters and my Black brothers and sisters.

ANDY SERWER: You want to know something really weird, Emmanuel? We see it right over that shoulder there. You see that animal?

EMMANUEL ACHO: So-- it looks like a longhorn.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, well-- yes. So here's the thing. It's a bull because, you know, Wall Street and all that, right? That's me. But it is actually a longhorn, and you're a Longhorn, right?

EMMANUEL ACHO: Absolutely.

ANDY SERWER: And the last person I talked to, the last interview I did just two days ago was another Longhorn, Matthew McConaughey.

EMMANUEL ACHO: All right, all right, all right.

ANDY SERWER: Exactly. It's like a whole Longhorn festival going on here with-- the last couple days. So just to wrap things up here, I'm curious about what you think, in your heart of hearts-- what you hope America can look like, say, a few years from now when maybe we're a little bit more together again.

EMMANUEL ACHO: Andy, I'll tell you how I end my book. I say that racism is not a-- racial equality is not a finish line that we'll cross. It's a road that we will travel. Unlike in a football game-- the objective is to cross the goal line and get a touchdown and put six points on the board. Racial equality isn't like that. We have to choose to travel the road together.

So what does a world with equality look like? It looks like Black people, white people, different cultures, brown people, light people celebrating our accomplishments together, mourning with one another, rejoicing with one another, but doing it in peace and unity and in love.

ANDY SERWER: Now, that is a vision I can buy into. Emmanuel Acho, author of the new book, "Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man," thank you so much for your time.

EMMANUEL ACHO: Thank you, my man.

ANDY SERWER: You've been watching "Influencers." I'm Andy Serwer. We'll see you next time.