Minutes after coming out on the winning end of one of the most exciting games of this NFL season, after leading his team on a game-winning 75-yard touchdown drive that began with just 46 seconds left in the fourth quarter and one timeout in hand, after breaking the all-time NFL rookie record for passing yards in a game, Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud wouldn’t immediately talk about any of those things.
First he needed to speak up about the corruption of the American justice system.
It’s a deeply personal issue for Stroud, as his father, Coleridge, is currently serving a 38 years-to-life sentence in California after pleading guilty to several charges in 2015.
“I got to talk to my dad a little bit this week and I’m praying to God that something can happen that he can get out and come to one of these games, man,” C.J. said on Sunday. “I’ve been praying for him a lot and I know — I didn’t want to make this public man, but our criminal justice system isn’t right. It’s something that I probably need to be a little more vocal about because what he’s going through is not right. He called me this week and we got to talk and I’m praying for the situation and Reform, the people of Reform are helping me a little bit.
“But just letting it be known, man, it’s not just my dad’s situation but the whole criminal justice system is corrupt. I’ve been watching videos and in Mississippi some of the prisons have rats and roaches and things like that, and don’t get me wrong, criminals they should do their time and everything like that but they’re still humans, you know what I mean? I just wanted to shine light on that real quick.
“But yeah, I’m really blessed to break the record and really blessed to get the win.”
What shouldn’t get lost in CJ Stroud’s historic day was when asked about breaking the record he mentioned being a family man and talked about the criminal justice system involving his dad. pic.twitter.com/z6RzS5N7R5
— DJ Bien-Aime (@Djbienaime) November 6, 2023
Now, let’s pause here for a minute for those of you who like to read things or hear things you want to read or hear instead of what is actually written or said. Stroud did not, at any point, say criminals should not face punishment; in fact, just to reiterate, he said, “Don’t get me wrong, criminals should do their time.”
And Coleridge Stroud pleaded guilty to carjacking, kidnapping, robbery and misdemeanor sexual battery after he forced himself into a woman’s car while she was at a red light, demanded that she bring him to a house to buy drugs, at one point touched her between her legs over her clothes, then after she escaped evaded police and ultimately jumped into San Diego Bay. No one here is saying that he did not deserve disciplinary action.
We good? Everyone on the same page? Cool.
What we are saying is that while it may not have been the most elegant delivery — chances are Stroud was nervous to leap into such a topic in front of media after just his fourth NFL win — it was still pretty remarkable to watch this young man take that leap at all. There are quarterbacks far older than him and with a lot more money in the bank who wouldn’t show the temerity to speak up about anything even remotely controversial, let alone the American (in)justice system in a postgame press conference.
And we’re also saying that Stroud’s points, that the criminal justice system “isn’t right” and that conditions in many prisons are inhumane, are valid.
There have been an increasing number of headlines bringing attention to men, overwhelmingly Black men, released from prison after decades of being caged for crimes they never committed, their lives stolen from them. Once their freedom is returned, they’re given little, if anything, to help put things back together.
Public defenders are have far too many cases, with a recent study showing they are handling three-to-10 times more cases than guidelines dictate, meaning they can’t work effectively for clients, which often leads to life-altering results.
An untold number of American families are still dealing with the effects of the 1994 federal crime bill, which contributed to an explosion in the prison population nationally, in part because of the implementation of three-strikes bills in multiple states. While some changes deliberately targeted Black communities (i.e. significantly longer sentences for crack cocaine vs. powder cocaine use even though they are effectively the same substance and white people used the drug at higher rates), the overall result has led to BIPOC people being arrested and convicted far more frequently, and receiving longer sentences for the same crimes.
California’s three strikes law comes into play for Stroud’s father. Coleridge Stroud was arrested three times previously, but the 2015 incident was his first in more than 20 years, before he’d met C.J.’s mother and C.J. and his three siblings were born. Coleridge had served as a church pastor and worked for a communications company but during an appeal in 2018 said that when his marriage dissolved years earlier “his life spun out of control and he began using illegal drugs again after more than 20 years of sobriety.”
Kimberly Stroud told Sports Illustrated last year that an attorney hired by Coleridge was fighting for his release, arguing that at least one of his past convictions was non-violent and therefore should not count as a strike under the law.
As to inhumane conditions, well, examples of those are myriad as well. C.J. Stroud mentioned conditions in Mississippi; a 2022 U.S. Justice Department investigation did find roaches and rats, as well as mold and broken toilets at the state penitentiary, and there were 300 deaths there in just over three years. Angola prison in Louisiana effectively functions as a slave plantation, right down to the largely Black prisoners picking cotton for long hours under the watch of white overseers, then spending nights in crumbling buildings. Just this year, nine people have died at New York City’s Rikers Island jail, where the overwhelming majority of people are awaiting trial — not convicted.
It all means that for many (let’s pause again to say many does not mean all), the punishment and its long-lasting effects in terms of mental health, PTSD and broken relationships are far worse than the crime committed.
Talking to the hosts of “The Pivot” last year, Stroud spoke of the anger he felt for years after his father’s arrest but also of their relationship now that Stroud is older.
“When I talk to him now, I don’t hold no ill will,” he said. “I tell him, ‘I love you man.’ At the end of the day, you made your mistakes and I’ll make mine. It’s not about the bad. Especially being a Black man in this world, we’re held for the bad stuff that we do, not the blessings. My dad changed his life for 25 years. Twenty-five years he was a pastor … I probably didn’t have a Christmas or Thanksgiving when I wasn’t giving, I wasn’t going into the community. I look at the things my dad did that were positive.”
None of us are all good. None of us are all bad.
Humans, even ones who have committed wrongdoing, should still be treated as humans.
Stroud knows that. On Sunday, after a dazzling performance in a young career that may be full of them, he seized on an opportunity to spread the word.