Q&A: Rick Spielman - Sports Illustrated

Q&A: Rick Spielman

Rick Spielman has worked as a scout or personnel executive in the NFL since 1990. He became the Vikings' general manager in 2012. He and his wife, Michele, have six black children, all adopted.
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SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: How have you gone about talking to your kids about how to interact with law enforcement?

RICK SPIELMAN: When my wife and I adopted our kids from the foster care system, we did everything we could to try to educate ourselves, because we were going to be a mixed-race family. It was very important to us that our kids understood Black history and what it meant. So we tried to be as proactive as we could. The one thing that it did for us as white parents: We've seen the world through our kids’ eyes now, which is a totally different lens. And I think it's funny: When they were little, kids playing with kids, no one sees color. Then I asked one of my sons: "When does that change?" And one of the responses I got was, "When we become 13, 14 years old, become teenagers. All of a sudden, things change for us." They live in a world of white privilege. When they're out on their own as they got older, they are exposed to what Black and brown people have to live with from a racism standpoint on a daily basis.

They've dealt with incidents?

RS: Right. An incident driving my wife's car. … They get pulled over [driving] a nice car because of the color of their skin. I'll never forget that. We were sitting at home and one of my sons was out eating with his friends in a restaurant. They were the only Black and brown people in the restaurant. Supposedly there was a call that came in to the police that there was a robbery or burglary. The police [came] into that restaurant and [pulled] my son and his friends out because they automatically thought that was them. Watching when they go into stores without us and they're being followed by the security while they're in the stores … or they describe one incident where the person working in the store told them to get what they want and get out as quickly as they can. There's just numerous examples like that.

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How does having Black children give you a different perspective than a white parent with white kids?

RS: We understand better what it's like to be African-American in this country, regardless of where you're at. Unless you're recognized on your name because you're a good athlete or something like that. Even that doesn't make a difference at times.

How did you go about teaching your children Black history?

RS: Part of foster care parenting is you go through training. We did an exercise, and they laid out 10 or 12 different questions: What's the predominant race at your church? What's the predominant race at your school? What's the predominant race of the doctor or medical care services that you use? If it was white, you grab the white bead. If it was Black, you grab the black bead. I can't remember the colors—I think it was green, a Hispanic bead. Red, an Asian bead. And so on down the road. When you went through and answered these questions and you looked in your bag, you see that probably, for most white Americans, their bag is going to be all white beads. That brings attention to how you bring diversity into your life.

We did a lot of things—making sure [they know] what Martin Luther King Jr. did, what Rosa Parks did. All of a sudden, we see the world in a different way. When a white employee gets pulled over, he's going to get his ticket and move on. When an African-American employee or a person of color gets pulled over … my son said this: "My heart goes into my stomach, I don't know what's going to happen." Another Black employee said: "I'm thinking, Am I going to see my family again?" The more we can have these uncomfortable conversations, talking through all this stuff really opens eyes and educates everyone.

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One of your former players, Tom Johnson, won a civil suit against the Minneapolis Police. He recently had conversations with white teammates, including Brian Robison, whose father worked for nearly three decades in law enforcement. Are these important conversations to have?

RS: A lot of players have family members in law enforcement, or who wear uniforms. Just like every other profession, there are bad apples—but there are a lot of good apples out there that do the right things and want to do the right things. If [a football player] does something significantly bad off the field, you don't [say] that every football player is the same. That makes sense. … Like a team, you want to hold the [individuals] accountable. But the [police] system makes it difficult to do.