The Vikings unveiled plans to increase social justice work in the Twin Cities on Wednesday, with a scholarship in George Floyd’s name and a $5 million commitment from ownership to fight racism and inequality.
The Vikings’ three-year-old social justice committee, led by co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson and a half-dozen players, established the George Floyd Legacy Scholarship with a $125,000 gift in the days after police killed Floyd in south Minneapolis. The endowment is expected to generate $5,000 annually for a black Twin Cities high school graduate pursuing post-secondary education.
The committee distributed $250,000 to organizations around the metro area in both 2018 and 2019 after gifts from the Wilf family. This year, it will help Vikings ownership make decisions about how to use the $5 million donation across the U.S.
“When the tragedy happened a couple of weeks ago it was real easy for [General Manager] Rick [Spielman] and I to get the committee together, and they were very strong with, ‘How can we help?’ ” Patterson said Wednesday. “And what they wanted to do was find a way to help his family or put something together so he would always be remembered. And so one of the things they brought up was trying to put a scholarship together in George Floyd’s name. It only took one week and the Vikings came together and got that done.”
In an 83-minute conference call Wednesday, Vikings players and executives told emotional stories about their own experiences with systemic racism and shared candid thoughts on how the NFL can drive change on issues ranging from food insecurity to education and criminal justice reform.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks, who challenged the NFL to take action with a series of June 2 tweets and appeared with teammate Anthony Barr and 17 other players in a June 4 video asking the league to condemn racism, discussed how his initial trepidation about speaking up gave way to a realization he couldn’t stay silent. Running back Ameer Abdullah, who’d knelt during the national anthem while with the Lions in 2017, talked about his father’s participation in the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march and the Vietnam War and his own experiences in Alabama as a “double minority” growing up black and Muslim.
And Spielman teared up as he shared how one of his adopted sons was once pulled over for driving an expensive car, having to call home so Spielman’s wife, Michele, could tell a police officer the driver was her son and the car was hers.
“When I’m able to go out in the community with my wife and we have our kids with us, they see a whole different world,” Spielman said. “But when they go out on their own, one of my sons gets pulled over because he’s driving my wife’s car that’s a really nice car. And he gets pulled over because of the color of his skin. To think that black man can’t be driving that car, he must’ve stolen that car. … I struggle to try to explain to our kids why they have to live in two different worlds.”
Kendricks said Roger Goodell’s June 5 video response — during which the commissioner said, “Black lives matter,” and admitted the league had wrongfully discouraged players from peaceful protest — was “what we wanted,” adding he expects to talk with the commissioner in the next few days.
“We want to try to keep it to football as much as possible, but these are issues that are facing the majority of the players’ communities,” Kendricks said. “For us to feel like we can’t speak up about it, it just didn’t feel right.”
The linebacker said the NFL’s gesture could give more players the freedom to protest during the 2020 season, though he added the Vikings — who haven’t publicly protested since linking arms during the national anthem for much of the 2017 season — have recently spent more time discussing community efforts than protest plans. Spielman said the 2017 decision reflected the team’s belief in doing things together, adding, “I just think it’s so important [to realize] the message gets lost sometimes, what the actual problem is.”
The general manager demurred when asked about former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s continued unemployment, saying, “Down the road, if there’s an appropriate time, we can address things, but I want to keep the football-related stuff out of this, because I don’t want the message to get diluted from what we’re trying to accomplish today.”
Vikings Chief Operating Officer Andrew Miller called Floyd’s killing “a tragic and senseless act” that “highlighted a number of facets of our society that are broken, including law enforcement. And that’s led to a culture of systemic racism that needs to be fixed.”
Players, Miller said, have led efforts to have conversations with Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo; 10 of them, including Kendricks and Barr, met with Arradondo last weekend.
The Vikings, Miller said, are “still talking through” whether to end their relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department.
“We’re trying to understand the different perspectives that people have, and trying to make the best decision possible,” he said. “There’s complexities to any relationship, and ultimately we want to do what’s best for our organization and for our fans.”