Several prominent Minnesota sports figures came together Tuesday night to debate whether athletes have a responsibility to use their platforms for social good, one of the most polarizing issues facing the country in recent months.
Former Vikings defensive end Carl Eller encouraged more athletes to be willing to take a stance and express their ideas.
“We don’t see them as real people with conscience, attitudes and families,” he told the crowd at “Where Race and Sports Intersect: What is the Media’s Role?”
“Athletes have been contributing in significant ways and haven’t gotten the credit of creating diversity and the role they play in our culture,” he continued.
Ray Richardson, a DJ at KMOJ and a former reporter with the St. Paul Pioneer Press, said athletes, especially white athletes, are afraid to speak too candidly about their beliefs, fearing that anything perceived as controversial could hurt their brand.
But, he said, many athletes have more consequential conversations in the privacy of their locker rooms, away from the media’s prying ears.
About 80 people attended the forum, which was held at the University of Minnesota.
It came at a moment when the NFL is trying to find its voice in the broader conversation about the role of race in sports. On Tuesday, the league announced formation of a new player-owner committee focusing on social and racial justice initiatives.
Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson said that in some ways, President Donald Trump’s denouncement of Colin Kaepernick, who has been a vocal critic of what he sees as systemic racism and police brutality, overshadowed the purpose of the protest.
“When the president decided to make it into something malicious, unpatriotic and un-American, he took away the dialogue that was supposed to happen,” she said, adding that fans wanted to learn more about their players, but not necessarily their political views.
“That doesn’t mean we aren’t entitled to our own opinions,” Brunson said.
Former Twins pitcher LaTroy Hawkins and Twin Cities sportswriter Larry Fitzgerald Sr. were unable to attend.
Trevor Squire is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.