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Kenny Stills Goes Deep

An interview with Miami Dolphins' receiver Kenny Stills by Jon Chattman

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Last season, Kenny Stills, like Colin Kaepernick and many other NFL players, took a stand against social injustice by not standing at all. Unfortunately, the Miami Dolphins wide receiver said taking a knee during the National Anthem had the opposite intended effect and because of it, he’s decided to stand this season. “It was dividing and distracting,” he said. “More people were talking about the protest than what we were protesting.”

Realizing the world in which we live in changes by the minute, the second, the tweet, the Minnesota native is currently trying to find some kind of way to get his message across. “i’m trying to figure out the best way to get done what I want to get done.” After all, he said, the world has enough division and diversion. Case in point: We spoke with him less than a week after the deadly protests in Charlottesville.

“I’m really just really continuing to work in my community and trying to treat people how I want to be treated and hope that can spread like wildfire…just love and respect each other more,” he said.

One way in which Stills has always been able to express himself is through art emblazoned all over his body. The sad state of world affairs and last year’s protest will be no different.The Minnesota native plans to get the word “unity” or carry its message on his leg - some rare untapped skin real estate - by summer’s end. We spoke to the stylin’ player about the origins of his art, a bit more about Kaepernick, and hey, there’s a football season coming up, right?

We naturally discussed the Fins. Last year was the best Stills had in aqua green since being traded from the New Orleans Saints in 2015. He scored a career high nine touchdowns and had 17.3 yards per catch average. Pretty spiffy. So spiffy it led the team to resign him to the tune of $32 million over the next four years. He said he’s looking forward to next season, and likes the teams chances in the AFC. “The confidence is big in Miami,” the speedy offensive threat said.

Last season was a step in the right direction for the team, and you crushed it personally. Did you approach this offseason any differently than in years past?

For me, it was just building off of what we did last year with the routine I created for myself, the training regime and diet. It was doing everything I had done in previous years but finding ways to improve on that even more.

Not to make those of us who don’t go to the gym as much as we’d like feel even worse, but what did you do differently? Harder, longer workouts?

You can work, train your body, lift weights, run, train all of your muscle groups, and do all of those different things, but you never really train your eyes. Receivers separate themselves by working on their eyes. So I linked up with a company Eye Gym, and basically you’re on the computer for ten minutes a day doing different eye excursive work on reaction times, peripheral vision, and recognizing different symbols at different times. So, it’s these eye exercises that helps track the ball. It helps me read the defense before a play even goes down. It’s the little things people never think of. It’s just finding a way to separate yourself from other players.

Talk to me about the team a bit. You signed in the offseason. What’s the chemistry like and how high are your expectations going into this season?

Obviously, I have supreme confidence in the team coaching staff. That’s why I decided to sign here. We’re a bunch of guys that are hungry and we have a head coach (Adam Gase) who lets us have a good time out there and prepares us to win. I have a lot of confidence in the squad, and I’m obviously looking forward to build on last season.

Last season you took a knee during the National Anthem. Colin Kaepernick and many others did as well. Can you talk to me a bit about Colin, in particular, and the consequences, it seems, he’s paying for the actions he took last season?

What he’s done is something that will go down in history forever. What they’ve done is taken a couple things he’s done - the [pigs with dressed as police officers] socks and Fidel Castro T-shirt - and let that overrule all the good he’s done. He opened a lot of our eyes. He’s done great work in the community - giving back his own money and time. I think it’s wrong what’s happening with him not having a job. In my eyes, plenty of people have given a political stance and opinions of what’s going on, and they’re not being blackballed from their jobs.

I think it’s wrong, and I just wish more owners would be honest. If he’s not good enough, don’t hide behind the curtain. Don’t pretend to be worried about the fans or ticket sales if that’s not the truth. We can make a lot more progress in the world by people being honest about their intentions. They might not like the way he went about things or that he had taken a knee, but people are paying attention to the wrong thing.

Many just said the same thing about the president condoning Confederate statues being taken down as a way of diverting attention away from his missteps not speaking out against Neo Nazis and white nationalists in Charlottesville…

It’s frustrating. It becomes easy when people don't want to talk about the real issues. I’m really just [focused] on continuing to work in my community and trying to treat people how I want to be treated and hope that can spread like wildfire…just love and respect each other more.

Shifting to tattoos, since, you know, this is Inked! Can we expect some kind of ink to reflect this “love and respect” theme?

Yes. That’s what we’re going to do next Friday. I’m thinking of doing a unity-type thing on my leg. We’re trying to figure out where.

Take me back to your first tattoo. How planned out was it, and did you know exactly what you were going to get?

On my forearm it’s a lot of words. Honestly, it’s from one of the chain emails from back in the day that my dad had forwarded to me. It’s just words of encouragement and when I first read it, it just felt like I needed the words forever:

To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did. When God takes something from your grasp, He's not punishing you, but merely opening your hands to receive something better. ‘ The will of God will never take you where the Grace of God will not protect you.’

That’s deep and a lot of words… You went all out…You could’ve got one word or like a small Super Mario mushroom or something.

Nah, I definitely went all out.

How old were you and where’d you get it?

I was like 16 or 17, still in high school. It was the Fourth of July, and I borrowed money from a friend. I got it from some guy at a garage.

It was a tattoo artist right? Not just some guy?

Yeah, he was an artist. People don’t really know this, but it’s misspelled. [Laughs] It looks good, but if you look up close he messed up something. There’s no “e” in the first something. But, it’s cursive so you can’t tell but I know. But, that’s the least of my worries. It’s funny.

And I’m sure the message still stays with you…
It’s been motivating, comforting, and it’s done a lot for me. I’m proud of it.

You have like a million tattoos so I won’t ask for a play-by-play of each one, but when did you get your second one?

I think it was a couple months later.

Is there a theme or any rhyme or reason for each of your tattoos? Do all of them have meaning or when you have as many as you have do you just get some for the hell of it?

The majority are meaningful. I have my clothing line logo (Lumbear) stamped on my arm and on a couple different places. I have a needle with ice water in my veins. I have lots of space covered up, but have room for more. I’m going to get my legs done soon. My back will be finished soon. The more you get, the more opportunity there is for fun stuff.

Did you know you’d end up getting so many or was it simply you got one, then wanted more, and more, and so on?

I knew once I’d get them, I’d at least want to get sleeves. Then, once I got sleeves, I wanted work on my chest. It does get pretty addictive. In college, Wiz Khalifa was blowing up so my friends and I were all influenced by him and what he was doing. With my best friend and I, it became a competition almost. But, my appreciation of art plays a big part of all of it. I’ve always been a doodler. I wish I had that skill, but I was blessed with other talents so it’s fun for me to get with another artist, give them my idea, and work on it together.

Did anyone in your family freak out at all?

At first, they’d say ‘are you gonna stop now?’ Now they don’t say anything. I’ve never really worried about it. I left home at 17 with a scholarship to play football. I didn't ask my parents for much. I didn’t need any opinions on my body.

Can you pick a favorite or a most personal?

Honestly, what I’m going to be doing on my leg will be my favorite. All of them are my favorites. I love getting tattoos - the whole experience and the bond you make with the artist. It’s tough to say one is your favorite. They are all unique and different.

Do you have one artist you go to regularly or a bunch?

I have a bunch. I try to find a different person at the right time, and the right price.

What do you think your tattoos collectively say about you?
You don’t have to look real close. It tells you a lot about me and who I am. I have “Glory to God” on my chest. On my body is like a tree of life, and underneath is a demon. It’s pretty hard to miss what the message of my body is.