The former Vanderbilt football player most likely to be taken early in this year’s NFL Draft was a campus leader, actively involved in social issues. In the past, that might have been seen as a positive by prospective NFL teams, but Oren Burks has found this year is different.
In 2016, Burks was handpicked by the Southeastern Conference to address questions surrounding police shootings. The call came after a summer of racially charged incidents and just days after the Dallas sniper shooting.
At the time Burks said he felt “blessed” to have the opportunity but now admits he did have some concern that speaking out could impact his professional career.
“Yeah, I did at first,” Burks says while driving through his home state of Virginia. “But then I thought about the platform that I had to kind of speak out on those issues. I just knew that I had to take the chance and run with it because that was something I’m extremely passionate about.”
While at Vanderbilt Burks co-founded a campus group empowering African Americans and now uses social media to weigh in on issues. Being vocal online has hurt some players leading up to this year’s draft in the wake of political backlash the league has seen over national anthem kneeling.
Burks says during the pre-draft process, some teams did question his past activism.
“Yeah, absolutely that did come up in a couple of interviews,” Burks says. “But one thing I tried to reinforce was that I was really intentional about the platform I was given, and I used it responsibly.”
Burks said most teams seemed to like that response. The speedy linebacker is expected to go in the middle rounds of the draft, with some analysts projecting he could end up back in Nashville as a Tennessee Titan.