Rosey Grier, the lineman who wrestled the gun that killed Bobby Kennedy from Sirhan Sirhan, has spent his life wrestling stereotypes, proving that big men can cry—even do needlepoint—while black men can vote for Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.
One of the last names Robert F. Kennedy uttered fifty years ago was Rosey Grier’s. In his California primary victory speech moments before he was shot in June 1968, Kennedy said: “And to Rosey Grier, who said that he'd take care of anybody who didn't vote for me. In a kind way because that's what we are. Smile pretty.”
Indeed, this six-foot-five, 300-pound defensive tackle has charmed Americans with his grin and light touch for decades. But that night darkened suddenly, when Sirhan Sirhan started shooting while shouting “Kennedy, you son of a bitch.” Sirhan, a Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship, resented Kennedy’s support of Israel. Although it wasn’t reported that way in 1968, Kennedy’s assassination was one of the first Palestinian terrorist attacks against an American—and in America.
Grier was protecting Ethel Kennedy, Bobby’s wife, pregnant with their eleventh child. Grier had just helped her down from the stage in the Ambassador Hotel, when he heard the gun shots. The kind of hero who runs toward gunfire not away from it, Grier found the writer George Plimpton trying to wrench the gun from the killer.
People were scrambling, shouting, running in different directions. Acting instinctively, reliving a teenage trauma, Grier remembered his father coming home drunk one night, and pointing a gun at his sister’s face, “so I took the gun away from my dad. And now, there's a gun pointed at George Plimpton's face, so I put my hand over the gun, then I pulled the trigger back so my thumb went under it so it couldn't fire." ...