Through his leadership role on the Vikings’ social justice committee, his partnership with the Sheridan Story to fight childhood hunger and his recent efforts to help those affected by COVID-19 through sales of his artwork, linebacker Eric Kendricks has worked for several years to address systemic inequalities he’s encountered.
With a series of social media posts Tuesday morning, he called on the NFL to do the same.
Kendricks took to Twitter, asking the NFL to show its work on social justice issues, after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement Friday addressing the May 25 death of George Floyd while restrained by Minneapolis police officers.
Goodell’s statement expressed condolences to Floyd’s family, adding the reaction of protesters in Minneapolis and around the country “reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel.” On Tuesday morning, Kendricks joined the chorus of players criticizing the statement, which referred to the league’s “ongoing efforts” to address “systematic issues.” Kendrick asked the NFL to go beyond words.
“@NFL what actual steps are you taking to support the fight for justice and system reform? Your statement said nothing,” Kendricks wrote in a Twitter thread later shared by teammate Anthony Barr. “Your league is built on black athletes. Vague answers do nothing. Let the players know what you’re ACTUALLY doing. And we know what silence means.”
Kendricks then said the Vikings have “opened a dialogue with players and we’re all working toward solutions with the team,” before asking for suggestions from Twin Cities residents about ways the team can support the city.
“Our team doesn’t just want to donate — we want to work with local organizations and get out there to help facilitate change,” he wrote. “But we want answers at the league level. That’s where change can happen, and we’ve seen none. Because right now, it seems like nothing. And nothing is unacceptable. You can’t bring in people to teach us how we should interact with police but not work towards changing the behavior of the police themselves. Silence will not make this go away. @NFL #WeWantAnswers #BlackLivesMatter.”
Goodell and the NFL have been taken to task in recent years for their handling of race issues, including players such as Colin Kaepernick protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem and a lack of diversity in the league’s coaching ranks.
The Vikings released a statement last Wednesday afternoon offering condolences to Floyd’s family, and coach Mike Zimmer released a statement through the team Tuesday, supporting “peaceful protests.” The Vikings also retweeted Kendricks and Barr’s messages about players opening a dialogue with the team and soliciting suggestions for ways to support the Twin Cities.
After President Donald Trump said in September 2017 that NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality should be removed from the league, Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf linked arms with players on the team’s sideline before a home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They later committed $250,000 of their own money to a social justice fund that players could use at their own discretion. Kendricks and Barr assumed leadership roles on the team’s new social justice committee in 2018.
The team announced in January its social justice committee approved a $35,000 grant for All Square, a south Minneapolis grilled-cheese shop that provides jobs to those returning from prison to society.
The committee also has organized visits to the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center to talk to teenagers there. Kendricks shared stories of his father’s struggles with drug addiction and how his mother, Yvonne Thagon, kept their family together during that time.
“I just told them, ‘Hey, if you guys ever feel like giving up, use me as an example.’ ” he said in Dec. 2018. “The skills we learn, the things we do, we learn from somebody. These kids are good kids; they just happened to be in the wrong situation.”