NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Once the season was over after Nebraska’s Foster Farms Bowl victory over UCLA last December, Michael-Rose Ivey got bored.
He didn’t have practice go to. Didn’t have workouts. Didn’t have class.
So he went to the Game Stop on O Street in Lincoln and traded his X-Box 360 for an electric keyboard. When he got home, he started messing around with it, mixing some beats and mimicking songs with the synth settings.
And over the course of the next few months, every so often, he’d return to the keyboard to wind down and take the stress away.
Ever since buying the keyboard, Rose-Ivey has been slowly learning more and more about himself.
He’s learned that he can put together some decent beats, and that he can land a starting spot in a deep linebacking corps on the field. He has also learned that he can stand in front of the cameras and reporters, and through tears, look into those cameras and explain why he knelt during the national anthem before Nebraska’s game at Northwestern.
“For me, this is probably the most growth I’ve seen in myself in the past few months this season than ever before,” Rose-Ivey told Land of 10 after practice on Tuesday.
From making music and uploading it for critiques to standing in front of the podium and talking about death threats, Rose-Ivey has certainly had a far different senior year than he expected.
It’s been three months since Rose-Ivey stood at the podium and talked about the death threats that he and teammates Daishon Neal and Mohamed Barry received after they kneeled during the national anthem.
Since then, things have died down on the Internet a bit, Rose-Ivey said on Tuesday. But in Rose-Ivey’s mind, it was the beginning of a sort of awakening.
He now often talks about things like social injustice, mostly on Twitter, the very tool which sent him messages of hate just months ago. He finds it important to spark discussion and raise awareness about things he thinks need to have a light shed on it, or things that need to be fixed. Things like unfair wealth distribution, or just his own commentary on the Netflix documentary “The 13th,” which talks about mass incarceration in the United States.
He says it’s important to talk about these issues, and important for him specifically, since he was in such a spotlight months ago.
“I think with anything, you have to be open, you have to be honest and you have to be respectful,” Rose-Ivey said. “I think more than anything I hope people can see that you can engage with someone without calling them names or calling them this that and the other.”
It’s been rewarding, this whole experience, he said. The threats and all the negative things that came with the speech in December, that was hard. But beyond that, Rose-Ivey’s found the silver linings.
“The more and more I keep going and the more I get perspective, seeing things outside of my box, seeing things outside my own shoes,” Rose-Ivey said of the benefits he’s received from the entire incident.
He’s taken his thoughts and discussions from the confines of his mind and brought them into the community, like taking a beat stuck in his head and putting into a song.
He spoke at Lincoln High School a few months ago, on the request of the teachers at the school.
And he’s even brought his message to the locker room. Just the other day, he said, he and junior safety Kieron Williams talked about the age-old lesson of why it’s so important to think about other people’s perspective, and how important it is to realize it’s not always so easy to empathize.
“A lot of people have perspective, or a lot of people have the ability to look at someone’s situation and think, OK, this situation is different than mine, but a lot of people don’t know how to act upon it,” Rose-Ivey said. “It’s kind of like why you don’t see a lot of Hall of Famers as coaches. For them, I could just go and say ‘hey, go back pedal.’ Deion Sanders could say ‘go back pedal like I do.’
“But you see a lot of people that don’t have the talent. So that’s kind of, people have to have perspective to not only look outside themselves but actually be able to understand and comprehend and then turn that into action and be able to respect and respond to people.”
Rose-Ivey plans on trying to make it to the NFL. He’ll do workouts after the season in Kansas City, where he’s from.
Beyond football, he knows he can do more.
“I felt like I broke out of my own comfort zone,” Rose-Ivey said of the past few years.
Kind of like picking up music. The past few months, when things have gotten bad, Rose-Ivey returns to the keyboard. And under the name Michael Demetrius, he uploads a short sample of the beat on SoundCloud.
Music had always been a big part of Rose-Ivey’s life.
He almost always has headphones on, whether he’s walking to class or getting ready for practice. He even had headphones on last night during the team’s event at the Wild Horse Saloon.
“That’s just something that intrigues me, music and how people come up with that, how they get in that creative mind and that space,” Rose-Ivey said.
Sometimes, after a really bad day, he’ll come home and make something new or just sit and tap on keys until he comes up with an idea.
He doesn’t want to explore making music as a profession, not yet anyway. But if the past few months have taught him anything, it’s that he’s capable of more than just good things on a football field.
He loves the idea that he can help anyone, or speak to anyone, or have a productive and influential life outside of football. To do that, he just has to put his head down and go forward, then deal with the criticism afterward.
That he can break out of his comfort zone, and look into doing something different, is something special. It’s something new.
Those things matter, even when it’s something small, like cashing in an X-Box for a keyboard, just to see what happens.