Michael Thomas couldn’t help but laugh.
“It’s crazy we’re having this conversation right now,” he said with a chuckle. But the topic being discussed was serious. It was laughter of disbelief.
He was addressing the recent vandalizing of NBA star LeBron James’ Los Angeles home, which had the N-word spray painted across the front gate. Thomas echoed James’ thoughts.
“He said it best [Thursday]: It doesn’t matter who you are,” Thomas said. “It is what it is as an African-American. That’s something you grow up dealing with.”
Thomas has been outspoken on similar issues in the past. Last season, the Dolphins safety knelt before every game to protest what he and others see as systemic police mistreatment of African-Americans. And while he didn’t say whether he’ll continue to kneel in 2017, he said he hopes to keep fighting for change through conversation and community activism. He also thinks his protests did some good.
“I’d like to say a lot more conversations have started,” Thomas said. “So I’d say we’re kind of moving toward the right direction but, honestly, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
That last point, he said, was punctuated by what happened to James. He added that despite more conversations about racial issues and discrimination taking place, there are still plenty of people tuning out. He learned that from the responses he got on social media after his protests.
“There are a lot of people right now,” he said when asked about the biggest lesson learned from his sideline activism, “who aren’t ready to have those types of conversations.”
Somewhat ironically, the conversation at Thomas’ news conference soon shifted back to football, which he was happy to talk about as well.
Thomas is entering his fourth full season with the Dolphins after starting eight games last season. One of the first football-related questions he was asked was about the possibility of playing more nickel corner more next season, but he very obviously tried to conceal the answer.
“Nothing’s changed,” he said. “Coach is mixing us up right now.”
He was asked again point-blank if he was playing nickel in OTAs.
“I’m being mixed around,” he said with a smile and a laugh.
He did mention the competition across the secondary, though, with the additions of free agent signing Nate Allen and third-round draft pick Cordrea Tankersley as well as the group’s returning talent. Starting nickelback Bobby McCain also talked about the competition, adding that there’s also some back-and-forth jawing with the receivers.
“Giving a little bit to the receiver, the receiver giving it back,” McCain said, “it makes it a lot of fun out there.”
Both McCain and Thomas emphasized the importance of that competition in improving the secondary. McCain said the results are already visible.
“We’re better,” he said, “but we can always be better. And we’re going to be.”
For Thomas, however, no matter how many football questions he was asked, the subject always veered back to his plans off the field.
For a while, he talked about his visit to Haiti in the offseason and how he plans to raise about $40,000 and go back to the island to build a water transportation system so that people don’t have to walk two miles for water. He’d also like to raise another $40,000 to purify the water.
He also spoke about his remaining offseason plans, which include his annual summer program for high school students in Houston, his hometown. Thomas said the program tries to get students engaged in subjects like computer science, while also helping them with standardized tests and college prep.
In between, he talked about whether he preferred playing safety or nickel.
So what types of questions does Thomas prefer answering — ones that deal with his goals and accomplishments on the field or off it?
“I’m comfortable with both,” he said.