The consciousness of America’s racial guilt has been pouring out in recent weeks. George Floyd’s murder by four Minneapolis police during our coronavirus public health crisis has definitely sparked hundreds of thousands of Americans to protest in the streets. Some local sports organizations have also responded.
Last week the Twins organization removed the statue honoring Calvin Griffith from the Target Field Plaza where it has stood since 2010. The team moved to Minnesota in 1960 from Washington D.C., and Griffith, the team’s owner, let everyone know he moved his team here because there were so few Black people. Griffith was a visionary: He saw Minnesota as the “last outpost for White supremacy.”
The Twins, which has carried on Griffith’s plan, had one Black player on its roster in 2019. The Twins organization last week committed $25 million to social justice causes.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted weeks ago that the NFL was wrong three years back for not listening to the players’ past peaceful protests over racial injustice and said “Black lives matter.” The NFL then committed $250 million for the fight for racial equality. That has led President Donald Trump to lambast Goodell and the NFL for its shift on racial issues.
Vikings players on the team’s social justice committee were critical of Goodell before the league committed $250 million. Linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr commented, “Your statement said nothing. Your league is built on Black athletes. Vague answers do nothing to let the players know what you’re actually doing.”
The Vikings three years ago did nothing—no player protest—when Collin Kaepernick took a knee protesting racial injustice, even though team General Manager Rick Spielman has six Black children who have been stopped by police for driving while being Black. I asked Spielman what’s changed in view of the issues his players had with Goodell’s statement.
“I think our ownership group started our social justice committee two years ago,” he said. “Our ownership has made financial commitments to promote change and give our players the platform to support the programs and things that they feel very strong about. On how we go about creating change, that has continued with even a bigger commitment from our ownership. All of our players, not just those on the social justice committee, continue to move forward on the changes that are needed.”
I asked Spielman if his staff and coaches have to do more to bridge that gap with the players. He replied, “I think there was not a divide in this building. We’ve always supported our players, and ownership and coaches have always supported our players. I know we have a culture here we try to unify as one, and we have a lot of open dialogue and discussions on how we move forward on changing everything since the tragic death of George Floyd.
“It’s been amplified up more on supporting our players,” Spielman continued, “giving them the platforms and financial resources. But not only just the players—everyone. A year ago we developed a diversity and inclusion committee on the business side also trying to do their part in this organization, so we’ve had no divide in that aspect.”
Three years ago Collin Kaepernick had the courage to take a knee. He has taken a lot of criticism for that, maybe even lost his career. An ex -NFL executive has suggested that the Vikings should sign Kaepernick. I asked Spielman what he thought about that.
“I did not hear that, to be honest with you,” he said. “Right now our main focus here is just the players and everyone in our building and what we can do using our platform to hopefully create the change that we need to make in this country.”
I reminded Spielman that three years ago no Vikings players took a knee and asked would it be a problem should that change in 2020.
“We have not talked about it because the players have not been in here,” Spielman said. “I know we’ve always done things as a team with the culture we have. I know we did go out there with our team, our coaches, our owners, myself. We locked arms together to show the unity of our team.
“So I think we’ve always had open dialogue and discussions internally with our players and coaches, and we’ve always tried to do things showing that we’re united as one.”