BY PARK STORIES
Since September of 2016 I have taken a knee during the national anthem to protest racism, inequality, and social injustice. This is my story.
Kenny Stills was born in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, however, he spent his childhood in Southern California. He was raised by his mother and father, Annette Delao and Ken Stills. His father Ken played in the NFL from 1985-1990.
Kenny attended high school at La Costa Canyon in Carlsbad, displaying athletic prowess early in life as a three-sport athlete: football, basketball, and track. In football, Kenny posted over 3,000 receiving yards and 33 touchdowns, setting multiple records for the area.
I still feel a strong connection to California. Whenever I’m back, it always feels like home. The culture, atmosphere, and setting shaped who I would become. There’s really no place like San Diego.
My mom’s side of the family is from Minnesota, and I definitely feel connected to that region. At the end of the day, I’m a California boy. One day that’s where I’ll end up living again.
Kenny chose to attend college at the University of Oklahoma. It didn’t take him long to make an impact for the Sooners, starting all 14 games as a freshman. That season, Kenny set the freshman records for receptions and receiving yards, posting 61 catches for 786 yards and 5 TDs.
Over his three years with the Sooners, Kenny grew as a player each season. He finished with 204 catches, over 2500 yards, and 24 TDs.
Oklahoma Football has some of the best fans in the world. When I was on campus, you couldn’t go anywhere without fans congratulating you on wins or showing love. It really is the ultimate college football environment.
ENTERING THE NFL
Kenny’s reputation as a deep threat was supported by his performance ahead of the draft; he ran a lightning fast 4.38 40-yard dash, also posting impressive numbers in the 3-cone, vertical jump, and bench press.
In the 2013 NFL Draft, Kenny would land with a seemingly perfect team for a dynamic, speedster wide receiver: the New Orleans Saints. He’d be able to learn from Drew Brees, contributing to one of the most iconic offenses in recent NFL memory.
One of the best parts of my job is that I’m able to experience different cities and cultures. New Orleans is so unique, and it’s a city I’m grateful that I was able to experience as a young player coming into the league.
Two things that will always stand out about New Orleans: the fans and the food.
EXPERIENCE WITH THE SAINTS
Despite being just a rookie, Kenny was able to contribute to the Saints offense in 2013. He put up over 500 receiving yards and caught 5 TDs in his debut season. His role would expand in year two, seeing almost twice as many targets and receptions in 2014.
I gained a ton on the field during my time with the Saints in terms of learning from coaches and experiencing the NFL world, but my time there was just as important off of the field as it was out there on Sundays.
One of the biggest lessons I learned was accountability. As a young player lining up alongside veterans like Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles, and Lance Moore, the last thing you wanted to do was make a mistake. Everyone was held to a high standard. That included preparation, conditioning, and professionalism. When you’re working with someone like Drew Brees, the stakes are high, and you never want to let him (or the city’s fans) down.
Even more important were the lessons I learned in the community. The vets made it a point to teach rookies how to make an impact off the field right when we arrived in New Orleans. They told us to always show up for community days, charity events, and any other times when there was an opportunity to give back to the city.
When I look back at the roots of the standard I hold myself to as a leader on and off the field, I always come back to the lessons I learned from our veteran players in New Orleans.
LANDING IN MIAMI
Kenny Stills was traded to the Dolphins in 2015. In 2016, he had the best season of his career, putting up a team-leading 9 TDs and averaging over 17 yards per reception.
His production wasn’t just a product of opportunity on the field – he was also growing into one of the team’s leaders off of it.
Dolphins head coach Adam Gase trusted Kenny to be one of the team’s strongest voices. “When you’re a first-time head coach and you’re trying to develop a new program… we needed as many guys as possible to come in and don’t ask any questions and put your head down and grind, and he did that,” Gase said of Stills.
His teammates expressed similar sentiment. Leonte Carroo opened up about Kenny’s mentoring role: “I look up to all the older receivers, but Kenny really took me underneath his wing this offseason. I came back about two months earlier to train. I was running, doing Pilates and training with Kenny every single day and getting better and also watching film with him. He’s a guy that I look to, to follow his lead.”
Kenny’s actions off of the field also earned him acclaim. The Dolphins host Community Tuesdays each week during the season in which players go out into South Florida to help those in need. Kenny attended events every single week and even worked to start his own initiatives. His teammates recognized him with the Nat Moore Community Service Award at the end of the season, given to the Dolphins player with the biggest impact off of the field.
In 2017, Kenny was voted the offense’s captain for the season. Now an established leader with the team and the community, he has been working to not only build the Dolphins’ culture on the field, but make a difference off of it all over South Florida and beyond.
The lessons I learned in New Orleans really helped me take on this leadership role in Miami. It was my turn to pass on the lessons about preparation and professionalism that I learned in New Orleans to the younger players in Miami.
In 2015, I learned how to look in the mirror and hold myself accountable. That season was huge for my development as a leader. Combined with my experiences in New Orleans, it helped shape the role I see for myself as a leader with my teammates.
When Coach Gase came in, I saw it as a chance for a fresh start. I wanted to do everything I could to not only have a great year for myself, but also to help the team win in any way I could. That’s how Coach and I developed such a strong relationship.
2016 started slow, but we got in a rhythm and hit our stride. Honestly, we really were just having fun. When a team with as much talent as ours starts to click, it’s tough to stop. We had a young coach who helped make sure our minds and bodies were ready to go on game day, and we just went out there and made plays. That stretch is definitely a highlight of my football career.
GETTING INVOLVED: GROWTH IN THE COMMUNITY
2016 was also the year when I took my first major leaps into politics. Prior to that, I was aware of political situations, but not deeply involved. Throughout the spring/summer of 2016, I witnessed the seemingly endless string of police brutality captured on video and spread through social media.
This was when I decided to follow with Colin Kaepernick in his protest. We were not protesting the national anthem. We were actively working to create a conversation regarding police brutality and the race issues that plague this country.
At the same time, I was beginning to focus on the 2016 Presidential Election. I watched the first debate as an undecided voter in the truest sense: I was not registered to a particular party, and had no preconceived notions about who I would support. I came away realizing how much was needed to help make people more politically aware and to bring facts back to the forefront of our national conversations. I worked with the Dolphins to help get my teammates registered to vote, then set out into the community to help work with programs that kept the next generation informed and engaged in their education.
My goal truly is to build bridges. I want to foster a positive relationship between police officers and the communities they protect. I want to encourage open conversation, which allows people to discuss issues and learn from each other. I want to help establish opportunities for at-risk kids to have the same opportunities in and outside of the classroom as everyone else.
At the end of the day, I believe we can all work to foster a spirit of compassion, understanding, and awareness within our communities.
Activism // Justice // Organization
After I began my protest, I wanted to make sure that I was taking action to show police officers that we are not working against them or trying to undermine the sacrifices made by those in law enforcement.
To do that, we began holding town hall events where teammates and I could speak to local officers and have discussions about issues both sides wanted to draw attention to.
We also worked to develop a police ride-along program, which allowed us to actually go into communities with law enforcement officers to help foster relations with kids and young adults in those areas. Our goal is to show kids that police officers are not their enemy, and at the same time to provide a positive setting for interactions for the police officers with those citizens. Opening up these dialogues and relationships can help foster change by building respect as a two-way street.
Education & Career Opportunities
A strong education is the most valuable gift one can give kids as they grow and mature. It’s something that can never be taken away from you, and I want to do everything I can to make sure that every child has equal access to education.
In addition, guidance is required for these kids to become well-rounded adults. That’s why strong role models and interaction with the right individuals/organizations can be so influential for these kids and young adults.
By working to shape and improve their futures, we’re making sure that the next generation achieves as many great things as they possibly can.
ORGANIZATIONS I SUPPORT
FASHION & DESIGN
Fashion has always been a huge part of my life. Whether it’s been clothing or sneakers, I’ve always been drawn to new styles and trying to get ahead of where I see things going.
Plenty of people focus on the biggest brands, but my goal is always to find the thing nobody is wearing -- that’s why so much of my closet is made up of unique, one-off pieces I’ve picked up traveling. One of the things I love about fashion is the storytelling you can achieve through what you wear.
When I came into the league, I knew I wanted to have opportunities to design and create my own clothing. New Era gave me that opportunity, allowing me to work as a designer and create a line of hats. I ended up coming up with products in Miami and New Orleans, and some of my proudest moments were watching those collections sell out and seeing fans wearing them around the cities.
Design is something I’m truly passionate about, and I’m sure it’ll be a big part of what I do for the rest of my life.