Before the Vikings’ 2020 season started Sunday, players, coaches and executives locked arms in a show of unity along the goal line during the playing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was followed by a moment of silence to honor George Floyd and victims of systemic racism.
The Gjallarhorn fell silent, a first since the pregame tradition started in 2007, before kickoff against the Packers. Members of Floyd’s family stood on the Gjallarhorn’s raised perch above the lower bowl of U.S. Bank Stadium during the moment of silence “to call attention to these silenced voices and collectively work toward a better, more just society,” a Vikings statement read.
“We’re appreciative they’re willing to come here and be part of this ceremony, and we know George Floyd has been a really big part of starting a lot of the focus on social justice in our world,” said Andrew Miller, the Vikings’ chief operating officer. “It’s absolute tragic and senseless he was killed, and we want our community to change in a positive manner after such a horrific act.”
Packers players and coaches stayed in the locker room during the pregame ceremony and national anthem, performed by Grammy Award-winning ensemble Sounds of Blackness in a prerecorded video.
“The Green Bay Packers respect the national anthem and United States flag and all that they represent, including the right to express ourselves,” Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy said in a statement. “We decided as a team to remain in the locker room during the playing of the national anthem and ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ so as to not distract from our message that we stand united for social justice and racial inequality.
“This is part of our continued call on our leaders to engage in meaningful dialogue that results in change. We feel it is important for all of us to participate in these difficult conversations with humility and be open to different perspectives.”
During the anthem, a handful of Vikings players knelt, including running back Ameer Abdullah, receivers Tajae Sharpe and Olabisi Johnson, safety Nate Meadors, defensive end Jalyn Holmes and running back Alexander Mattison. Some standing players draped arms on their teammate’s shoulder pads in a show of solidarity.
“I knew that some guys were probably going to kneel. That was up to them,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “That was their decision. So, it is what it is.”
In 2017, during a previous round of protests by NFL players, no Vikings knelt during the anthem; they locked arms along the sideline. This time around, according to linebacker Anthony Barr, locker room talks focused on freedom of expression: “We didn’t want to alienate anyone and make anyone do something that made them feel uncomfortable,” Barr said.
“A couple years back, kneeling was the worst thing you could do,” he added. “Now if you stand, people have something to stay about that. There’s always going to be people trying to divide from inside. But it was just, however you feel about it, you should express it your way. As long as we had an open conversation about it, we felt good about whether guys knelt or stand knowing we had those discussions.”
Vikings leadership worked with the Floyd family this summer to establish the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship with a $125,000 endowment, and the team’s social justice committee discussed last week how to involve the Floyd family in Sunday’s ceremony.
Players helped design the team’s pregame shirts, reading “Be The Change” on the front and “Say Their Names” on the back with the names of victims of police brutality and systemic injustice.
Players and coaches also wore helmet decals and patches with NFL-approved phrases to bring awareness or the names of victims. Linebacker Eric Kendricks wore the name of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman shot to death by Louisville police officers in March, on the back of his helmet.
The NFL has also added on-field markings in the end zone of every stadium that read “End Racism” and “It Takes All of Us.”