EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings work for progress in social justice is bringing people together on a deeper level.
Representatives of the Vikings Social Justice Committee – Chief Operating Officer Andrew Miller, General Manager Rick Spielman, Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Andre Patterson and players Eric Kendricks, Anthony Harris and Ameer Abdullah – met virtually with media members Wednesday and discussed current events that have stemmed from the senseless death of George Floyd.
Miller opened by emphasizing the "significant platform" the Vikings have to speak from.
He called the opportunity "both a privilege and an obligation" to make a difference. Accordingly, the organization has engaged in conversations to identify the best actions to take.
"We're proud of the fact that we're united. We're united as an organization, as employees, as players with the fact that we want to make a positive impact in our community," said Miller, who then announced a $5 million donation by the Wilf family to social justice causes.
"We're committed as an organization to eliminate racism, to influence positive reform of law enforcement, to promote racial and social equity through education and the ending of food insecurity," Miller added. "We're committed to building on the foundation of our internal culture to become champions of diversity and inclusion."
Unity permeated the speakers' thoughts and comments as a central theme throughout the nearly 90-minute video conference.
Kendricks expressed gratitude to the Wilfs not only for their financial backing but for their willingness to be involved at the grassroots level, interacting and engaging with players during the Vikings Social Justice Committee meetings.
"We have had an open dialogue about the issues that have happened. We have gotten a lot closer than I think any of us could potentially even think about," Kendricks said. "I'm thankful for the platform that I've been given. These issues are very real. We need to educate ourselves as much as we can, but we have to do it together."
Togetherness in efforts for social justice is not a new concept for the Vikings, however.
Patterson recalled the Social Justice Committee's launch in 2018, saying he and Spielman had lengthy conversations about the concept and brought together "a wide spectrum of players" to form the group.
"One of the most powerful meetings that I've ever sat in in my lifetime was our first meeting together," Patterson recalled. "We decided to just open it up and let the players who come from all different backgrounds express where they came from and express their different experiences in race relations.
"For me, it changed a lot of men sitting in that room. And right then and there, I knew that the Vikings had put together something that was very powerful and had the ability to create change," he continued. "Everyone just sat there and listened to one another. There wasn't anybody trying to get their point across or anybody trying to change anyone else's opinion. They just listened to one another, and that was a tremendous experience for everyone in that room."
Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25. One police officer has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Three others have been charged with aiding and abetting.
Following the tragedy, the Vikings held a virtual team meeting in which the players were encouraged to talk with one another about the events that had transpired.
Patterson reminded that the team has yet to gather in-person this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and had this been a "typical" offseason, natural conversation would have occurred among teammates in the locker room.
He also pointed out that in the six seasons since joining the team under Head Coach Mike Zimmer in 2014, the Vikings have faced a variety of tough circumstances. From painful playoff losses to significant player injuries, Zimmer's eye surgeries and the tragic and unexpected death of offensive line coach Tony Sparano, the team has weathered those things together.
"I just wanted to make sure when this happened that our players did that even though we were spread out over the country," Patterson said. "That they reached out, communicated and talked to each other to help each other get through – because the biggest things is when you keep all this trapped inside it just builds and builds and builds and you have an explosion.
"That's one of the things we talked to the team about: 'Let's do what we normally do even though we're not together; let's get it off our chests, listen to one another,' " he added. "And I think the guys have been doing a great job with that."
Harris was asked if the current climate and additional team dialogue has opened the door for sometimes-uncomfortable but effective conversations with teammates of different backgrounds.
The safety acknowledged that it "definitely presents more opportunities" for those discussions, especially since the current push for social justice feels “different”.
"I believe if you haven't experienced something or it isn't something that you deal with on a daily basis you could be blinded by the topic or by the issue," Harris said. "[But with] all the events going on, with the advancements and being able to catch things on camera, even though you can't say you've experienced it or you can't put yourself in the shoes of an African-American man, I think the videos allow you to insert yourself into a situation and understand from a human perspective what's going on.
Added Harris: "That's what really gives you the extra drive to pick up the phone and say, 'I know we don't talk that deeply or that often, but I just want to get more knowledge on your background, where you grew up, some things that you personally experienced, that you saw or some stories you can share that I may not have ever seen if not for technology or you sharing those conversations."
Whether spur-of-the-moment phone calls or through organized meetings, Kendricks assured that these conversations will continue. The Vikings are eager for the chance to reunite in-person; but distance won't stop them from joining for a common cause.
"More minds are greater than just one, and that's the attitude we're taking," Kendricks said. "We're all putting our heads together and trying to really create change."