EAGAN, Minn. – As the Vikings fight for change, speak up for social justice and speak out against police brutality, they also will continue working to build bridges between law enforcement and the African-American community.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks said that piece will "100-percent" continue to be a part of his effort toward solutions.
"My best friend growing up, he's a police officer, so I had a 45-minute conversation with him the other day about what's going on," Kendricks said. "I think it's important for us to have that dialogue, as well."
Kendricks joined teammates Anthony Harris and Ameer Abdullah, along with Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Andre Patterson, General Manager Rick Spielman and Chief Operating Officer Andrew Miller, as representatives of the Vikings Social Justice Committee on a virtual press conference with media members Wednesday.
The group spent nearly 90 minutes thoughtfully and passionately speaking about events that have followed the senseless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Kendricks referenced an event in October 2017, when he and former Vikings punter Greg Coleman joined forces with the Minneapolis Police Department and read books to 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds at the North Community YMCA. He explained that the team was "trying to improve race relations" at that time and will continue to do so.
This past Saturday, Kendricks and nine Vikings teammates met again with Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and further discussed ways to make an impact.
"There's a lot going on, and I don't have the answers for all of it, but for him to be willing to meet with us, over and over again, until we don't want to meet with him, he's willing to meet with us and have these conversations, and he's willing to answer any questions we have [speaks volumes]," Kendricks said. "For us to have that dialogue is super important. There obviously needs to be changes made. It's important to have that dialogue to get through it."
Spielman commented on the players' visit with Arradondo and three other police officers.
The GM expressed that he "can't be more proud" of the Vikings teammates for the way they prepared for the discussion and asked important questions.
"I was also impressed with Chief Arradondo and his openness to talk to us about all the issues and talk to us about the issues within the force," Spielman said. "It was another one of those examples of having these types of meetings to have those uncomfortable conversations on what is going on and how we can all come together to make change."
Added Kendricks: "For him to even meet with us concerning this topic, it's clear that even he knows, everybody knows, and it's about us moving forward and what we have to do to make this a better place for everyone."
Harris also emphasized the importance of pressing into difficult discussions and working together to create positive change.
"For myself and some of the other players," he said, "the message that we want to continue to put out is despite faults or issues that may pop up, we don't think condemning and distancing ourselves and not having those hard conversations is going to be productive to bringing us closer together and building a better connection, where there isn't such a harsh or troubling relationship between law enforcement and the community.
"In our efforts to continue to reach out, to continue to try and understand some of the layouts and some of the things that they go through, as well, and them hearing from our side and perspective, we believe that's going to be something that bridges the disconnect," Harris added.
Harris, currently in his home state of Virginia, shared about his experience just the night before.
As the safety was driving to get groceries, a passing patrol car in his neighborhood sparked a genuine desire for dialogue. And yet, there was some initial hesitation.
"Being an African-American man, sitting on the side of the road with my flashers on waiting for them to come out of the one-way street where I live, flag them down and have a conversation with them, it crossed my mind that I could be potentially shot or viewed as a threat just for what I was trying to do," Harris reflected. "I made sure I proceeded with extra caution so I didn't surprise them or, with everything going on in the world, that I tried to make them feel comfortable.
"It kind of just kept things in perspective of, no matter where you go or no matter what you're really doing as an African-American man, that's something that you can't shake," he added.
Harris did speak to the police officers for what he estimated was about 25-30 minutes, during which he asked for their thoughts on the current climate and different issues, ideas and solutions that have surfaced over the past week-plus.
Harris appreciated the opportunity to hear their perspective and ask questions.
It's those types of conversations, he explained, that hopefully can be instrumental in making a difference.
"I just try to use my platform and partner up with the team to go out in the community, have dialogue with different officials, have dialogue with kids in the community, with law enforcement and to essentially push the message that we can create change if each individual person can do their part, use their voice," Harris told media members. "After listening and gaining a ton of knowledge, then we can all come together with a plan or some sort of direction where we can make real, impactful change.
"But I just think that it starts with a lot of dialogue from different perspectives, getting more informed about the different topics or the different directions that are being discussed and just informing ourselves and moving forward hand-in-hand for one human race," Harris continued. "Black Americans, white Americans, other ethnicities and different beliefs, just really coming together with one faith and one goal of trying to pursue and more positive life that we can all live on, and just really learning to love one another, giving each other the opportunity to really understand who we are and where we come from. And I think if we can do that, then I think that's what can drive out fear of one another and bring us all closer together."