Antone Exum and Michael Dosh stood in a parking lot, staring at more than 20 guns.
The police officers who held them had been called because Exum — then a defensive back at Glen Allen (Va.) Deep Run —went into a local convenience store to buy snacks and a drink while he and teammate Dosh waited for friends at a nearby gas station. The shooting of Trayvon Martin was still years away, but police were called because Exum, wearing a black hoodie, looked suspicious.
Exum, now a safety with the San Francisco 49ers, was able to defuse that situation, but others like it have inspired him to express his frustration in verse. A budding, genre-fusing musician, Exum’s latest release is the provocatively titled “oFFICER kAEPERNICK” after controversial former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but Exum seeks to unify, rather than divide.
“I thought that it was appropriate,” Exum told The Examiner in a phone interview this weekend. “I thought that some of the issues that I’m talking about in the song were the reason why he took a knee in the first place … Of course, it would get ears on the song, or help get ears on the song, because he had already started such a great cause.”
In 2016, Kaepernick, then San Francisco’s starting quarterback, began kneeling for the National Anthem before the third preseason game to protest police brutality against minorities. That was a year before Exum joined the team, by which time Kaepernick had opted out of his contract. Kaepernick hasn’t had a job in the NFL since, but he and Exum trained together at a facility called EXOS in Arizona over one summer.
“When he first took a knee, that’s not my choice,” Exum said. “I’ve never taken a knee, just because it goes against my goal of unifying as a world — not even just as a nation, but as a world. But, I do understand that sometimes, people might have to do drastic things to shed light on a situation that’s dark.”
As Exum wrote the song — one or two offseasons ago, he figured — he thought of the conversations he’d had with Kaepernick. Exum wanted to go beyond just police brutality. Prison sentencing reform, marijuana laws, racial profiling, it all became fodder for his lyrics.
“It’s kind of like a score for the movement, a score for his purpose of taking a knee,” Exum said.
While Kaepernick’s protests drew the ire of many — up to and including President Donald Trump — Exum doesn’t have the former quarterback’s star power or platform, but he does have a nuanced view of the issues he addresses in his lyrics, particularly prison sentencing reform and for-profit prisons.
“How prison is a business, and people make money off of people going to jail, I’m not sure how that … that seems kind of backwards to me,” he said.
Exum hopes the song enables him to spark up a dialogue with law enforcement and government officials to discuss the subjects the he touches on, and would like to be a part of the solutions.
“The goal here should be for this to be a more loving and happy place,” Exum said. “If that’s what we’re talking about, then I have things to offer there, and I think my perspective can be valued if we were to sit down.”
A self-described peaceful, empathic, vegitarian Pisces who gets physically pained when he sees human suffering on the news, Exum is thoughtful, measured and well-spoken, but there is a certain anger and desperation underlying his lyrics. “I ain’t locked up, but I am not free,” he sings.
Though he was able to defuse his encounter with police in Virginia as a high schooler, Exum — a three-sport star at Deep Run and then a shutdown corner at Virginia Tech — faced yet another incident of profiling only a few months ago in his hometown, nearly six years into his NFL career.
Before this offseason’s OTAs, Exum was picking up his fiancé Chelsea from her childhood home in Richmond, Va. Sitting in his car and laughing while parked on the street, the two were about to pull away, when a neighbor across the street came outside with a flashlight and a gun, telling them to get off his property while pointing the gun at Chelsea, Exum and Exum’s dog.
“Mind you, this is in Wrightsville County, a Wrightsville County street,” Exum said.” This is not his property.”
The neighbor called the police, and later told Chelsea’s mother that he felt threatened, despite the fact that Exum had been unarmed. Exum left the scene before it could escalate. Police arrived later and spoke with Chelsea’s brother, and nothing came of the incident, except for some frayed nerves. Exum doesn’t bear any ill will towards the police who responded.
“There are just some cops out there that are literally just doing their job,” he said.
One line in the song that he’s particularly proud of regards police, judges and government officials: “I love em’ and I hate em’ half and half like the drink.”
“I don’t hate anyone,” he said. “My whole point there was just that, I really wanted to say that there are good cops. There are good police officers, there are good government officials, but we have some that are kind of conflicted … I understand that it’s only a portion that these catastrophic events take place with. I understand that there’s some good officials out there, but we also have the ones where we have the incidents that happen, and I think some of those are out of hatred. Some of them are out of fear.”