Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald grew up in Minneapolis, starring as an All-American at the Academy of the Holy Angels. He still has roots there—his charity, the First Down Fund, donates to Minneapolis-area schools, and his father, Larry Sr., writes for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.
The tragedy of George Floyd's death at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department, and the ensuing protests that followed, have understandably struck a chord with Fitzgerald. On Sunday, he wrote down his thoughts in a guest column for The New York Times, in which he professed his love for his hometown and his dismay for the events that have unfolded.
"The city of Minneapolis taught me about love," Fitzgerald begins. "I was baptized at New Beginnings Baptist Tabernacle Church, learned to catch a football at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, and instilled with values by a loving family and a supportive community...What you're seeing on the news is not the hometown of my youth."
Fitzgerald describes his surreal feeling of watching the same place where he grew up—the streets he would walk with his mother, "passing out educational materials on family planning and healthy lifestyles"—now ablaze in flames that, as he puts it, "in some ways symbolize decades of disappointment, anger and frustration."
"For as long as I have known it, Minneapolis has been a city of peace, family and contentment. But not right now."
Fitzgerald's takeaway from witnessing Floyd's killing, and the uproar from an aggrieved public that's followed? "We as a nation are not OK. We are not healthy."
Fitzgerald says that growing up, he never experienced police harassment firsthand. But he saw instances in which people of color were, in his view, not given a fair chance in interactions with law enforcement.
Fitzgerald cites the words of Martin Luther King Jr. from a speech titled "The Other America," which includes a passage that reads: "I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.
"I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.
"...And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation's winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again."
Fitzgerald takes a similar stance as King does on riots that spring from protests, urging others to heed the pleas of the people while not condoning the violence and destruction that rioting causes.
"The screams of disrespected voices are ringing out in our nation right now," Fitzgerald says. "We must never condone violent riots that take lives and destroy futures but we must also hear the desperate voice of protest that is calling out for justice."
Despite the heartbreak Fitzgerald expresses in all that's happening in his city, he ends on a note of hope—hope that impactful change can come as a result of all that's happened and that people will listen to one another. He urges others to listen to all voices who feel compelled to speak the issues at hand: his fellow athletes who have shared their thoughts; men and women from law enforcement who have decried the injustice carried out against Floyd; and the "tens of millions of Americans from every race, religion, background and socioeconomic status that are trying to listen to one another and effectuate change."
"We must work together to heal this divide and rebuild our communities by committing to let no voice go unheard," Fitzgerald says. "Our first step must be to listen to one another—to sincerely lean in and hear what the person who is different from us is saying...May God give us all ears to hear so that the cries of the unheard are never again compelled to scream in desperation."