Following their scrimmage at U.S. Bank Stadium on Friday, the Vikings weren't interested in talking about football. They wanted the conversation to continue to be about more important topics, namely the systemic racism and social justice issues that are plaguing this country.
So the team invited members of the media covering the scrimmage to gather in the stands behind the east end zone, and set up a microphone to deliver a message. A large percentage of the 80-man roster – including both African-American and white players – gathered behind the mic in a show of solidarity. First, head coach Mike Zimmer spoke about how proud he was of his players for how seriously they are taking these matters. The Vikings held a two-hour meeting on Thursday in which many different players voiced their opinions and discussed ideas for how the team can take real action to help facilitate change.
Then Ameer Abdullah, one of the leaders of the Vikings' social justice committee, stepped up to the mic.
"I know I speak for a lot of the men behind me right now when I say, we’re sick to our stomachs," Abdullah said. "We’re disgusted by the things that we’re seeing, the lack of empathy that’s been shown, the hijacking of narratives. The list goes on and on, and sometimes it can feel hopeless. We can feel hopeless as athletes sometimes, in this place that we are right now as a country, where you have police brutality raging on at a rate that’s just unbelievable. What happened to Jacob Blake in front of his children should never happen. No children should ever witness their father being shot seven times in the back, regardless of the circumstance."
Abdullah continued by expressing the main purpose of his speech, which was to call for a "proper (prosecution)" of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on George Floyd's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
"I think right now, as a team, we want to take this opportunity to really narrow our focus, really make our demands clear, because like I said, the narrative gets hijacked all the time. As a team, what we want, starting here in the city of Minneapolis — which has been the epicenter of a lot of (this) ... we want proper prosecution of Derek Chauvin, the police officer that kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes, along with the other officers. That’s all we want, just to start there."
Abdullah repeated Chauvin's name several more times over the next few minutes. He spoke about how the Vikings' social justice committee is looking to build "sustainable programs" to help with issues like economic inequality and a lack of mental health resources for low-income families in the Twin Cities community.
"We’re doing everything that we can, but now it’s on the bureaucratic system to meet our intensity, to meet our level of what we’re demanding because it only goes so far. It’s a two-way street. We can do what we can do, with [our] finances and resources we have, but we need the politicians, the bureaucratic officials to stand up and be leaders. It’s time for the bureaucratic system to hold up its end and supply a fair trial and fair juries – all the processes we’ve known that’s failed us before. We’re sick of the process and the system failing us. We’re standing up right now as the Minnesota Vikings and saying we want a proper jury and proper prosecution of Derek Chauvin."
It was a powerful, impassioned speech from Abdullah. Following him, Kyle Rudolph and Anthony Harris also spoke briefly. Rudolph talked about the importance of being at the forefront of change, and Harris asked others to join the fight in helping fix these issues.
Following the speeches, the Vikings released a statement from owners Mark and Zygi Wilf in support of the players' message. The statement included three areas where the team is looking to focus its action:
The Wilfs previously committed $5 million to social justice causes.
Friday was just the latest proof that the Vikings organization – from the owners down to the coaches and players – are seriously committed to not just saying the right things, but pushing for actual change. That's pretty cool to see.
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