Miami Dolphins

Star on the field and activist off it, Kenny Stills insists ‘it’s in me to lead’ the Dolphins

Kenny Stills, third in yards-per-catch in 2016, was unmatched in social activism.
Kenny Stills, third in yards-per-catch in 2016, was unmatched in social activism. AP

Kenny Stills wasn’t just angry. He was steaming mad.

But rage only began to describe Stills’ pressure cooker of emotions the day after Charlottesville, Virginia, was overrun by white supremacist in one of the ugliest scenes in recent American history.

“Honestly, it’s kind of hard for me to find the words to describe how I feel,” Stills told the Miami Herald. “Really, it’s more sad than anything. Trying to figure out — you get texts from friends and family — what are we supposed to do? What can we do?”

From kneeling in protest during the national anthem to helping lift up a community with his actions, Stills has done plenty. The Dolphins’ most outspoken, socially active player has used his platform to combat the scourge of racism, both in people and in institutions.

Stills, now in his third season with the Dolphins, has never been more comfortable professionally. His new contract — four years, $32 million — should set him up for life.

And he plays for a coach in Adam Gase who lets Stills — whose 17.3 yards-per-catch average in 2016 was third in the NFL — be Stills.

“As long as we do what he asks us to do, he has very few rules,” Stills said of Gase. “He treats us like adults and grown men and allows us to do our thing. I think you see that on Sundays. We love to play for him, and we love to be here, and that’s why we had so many come back and sign this offseason.”

That’s a rarity in football. And Stills knows that as well as anyone.

He played his college ball for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, and the headstrong Stills had occasional run-ins with his coach.

“I think it’s in me to lead,” Stills said. “I don’t know if it’s always exactly been what the organization wants or my college coach wanted, but I know how to bring guys together.”

That’s as true on the football field as it is off it.

In 2016, Stills and teammates Michael Thomas, Arian Foster and Jelani Jenkins hosted a town hall meeting with community leaders, law enforcement and coaches. He helped fund a community tailgate with tickets and refreshments for each home game. And he took part in a ride-a-long with the Broward Sheriff’s Office, a program that four other NFL teams (the Jaguars, Giants, Vikings and Ravens) plan to follow in 2017.

And yes, he took a knee during the national anthem to protest the treatment of African Americans by police. That made him a lightning rod outside the building. But in it? He had great support.

Stills has substance. And with fashionable hair, clothes and body ink, he has plenty of style.

In short, he’s the prototype of what the NFL will probably look like in the years to come.

“I’m conscious to know and understand what’s going on with the game and what comes from the game and what’s life after football,” Stills said. “I’m conscious to know who I am as a young man and what I want to be off the field and how I want to impact other people. I’m really trying to lead the younger group of guys into just opening their mind and just growth as a football player and as a person.”

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley