Those expecting lots of football talk in Saints tight end Benjamin Watson’s new book — “Under Our Skin” — won’t find it.
There might be five paragraphs — total — about the 12-year veteran’s career. You won’t find any insights about Drew Brees or Tom Brady, Watson’s quarterback when he began his NFL career as a first-round draft pick of the New England Patriots.
No mention of Sean Payton. Or Bill Belichick.
That’s by design.
Watson’s essential message — that the problem of race in America is a spiritual one and can be overcome through faith and prayer — is one he doesn’t want diluted.
“It was never going to be a football book,” Watson said during a recent signing at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Metairie. “Football is obviously a big part of my life, and it’s a way for me to reach people.
“But this is about a more important part of life.”
Indeed sports, along with music — and as someone pointed out at the Q&A session which preceded the signing, especially in New Orleans, food — have been our great common meeting grounds for decades.
But, Watson noted, there’s little progress toward true understanding if the dialogue doesn’t get beyond that.
All it does, instead, is reinforce stereotypes — such as when Watson was assumed to be a good athlete in elementary school because he was one of the few black students in his class. In less benign areas, that can be harmful.
“We come together over sports, maybe nowhere more than with the Saints,” he said. “But we need more interaction in all areas.”
That there wasn’t a bigger football element in the book didn’t seem to bother the 100 or so persons who came to the appearance, which was on the Saints’ open date Sunday.
In fact, only about 20 percent were in Saints’ gear, a far cry from what you see at most player appearances.
One of the 80 percent was Coast Guard Lt. Trayce Womack of Dallas, who is stationed at the local installation and attends Lakeview Christian Center as does Watson.
“Ben’s about the only football player I know,” Womack said. “I’ve heard him speak in Bible study classes and was sitting at the same table as he was for a program, but I didn’t know who he was until afterwards.”
So it was the theme of Watson’s book that drew her to the signing.
“He has a special perspective that I feel I can read and not feel completely alienated by his perspective,” she said. “I think it’s great that he has the platform of being a football player who can speak up front about being a Christian when it’s not the most popular thing to be.
“That’s very refreshing.”
Indeed, if parts of the book do come off as preachy — well, Watson comes by it naturally.
His father, Ken Watson, is pastor of Rock Hill (South Carolina) Bible Fellowship Church, and many of the book’s chapters are arranged like sermons, with arguments and anecdotes sprinkled with frequent biblical references.
Benjamin Watson does not shy away from being up front about his faith.
“I believe in a personal God: the God of the Bible, whose Son, Jesus Christ, is real and transforms lives by redeeming human hearts,” he writes in the book.
That belief comes across even stronger in Watson’s closing words: “I believe it’s essential for us to pray for America. I know there are some who hear that and think it’s a soft solution to a hard racial problem.
“On the contrary — prayer is one of the most powerful and pragmatic actions we can take to overcome racism in America.”
If that’s a sermon without practical solutions, it’s a strong one.
“Under Our Skin” grew out of a Facebook post Watson made following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014.
The post was full of passion. “I’m angry,” “I’m frustrated,” “I’m fearful,” “I’m embarrassed,” “I’m sad,” “I’m sympathetic,” “I’m offended,” “I’m confused” were some of his topic headings.
The post grew so popular that Watson was approached by Tyndall House Publishers to expand his ideas with the help of author Ken Peterson.
Ferguson — and the attention shootings by police of black suspects has received in the months since then — plays a predominant part in the book.
Black men of a certain age are too often profiled as potential wrongdoers. Watson tells the tale of how, when he was with the Patriots and his wife, Kirsten, went into labor with Grace, the first of their five children, they were stopped by a Boston cop en route to the hospital when they’d done nothing wrong.
“We have laws to protect us we didn’t have in my grandfathers’ time,” Watson said. “And we have a black president. But we are not beyond our racial issues. Solving them has to come from the heart of individuals.”
Back at the book signing, there was one notable football element.
Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis showed up and even joined with Watson in posing for pictures with a few of those purchasing the book.
“Benjamin Watson is one of the best guys I’ve ever met,” Lewis said. “Whatever he says, you know it comes from his heart.
“He’s helped a lot of people, both on this team and others. And he’s shown this season he’s a ball player who’s got another five more good years in him.”
Right on both counts.