MINNEAPOLIS – The final numbers on the scoreboard didn't count, but the Vikings words following practice were very real.
Friday's Verizon Vikings Training Camp practice was held at U.S. Bank Stadium, where the team played through an entire half in preparation for a regular season that will kick off there on Sept. 13.
Afterward, the coaching staff and all players took the field and stood in solidarity behind three members of the Vikings Social Justice Committee – Ameer Abdullah, Kyle Rudolph and Anthony Harris – who shared their hearts while delivering comments to media members.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer opened for the group with the following:
"What I'd like to say first of all is how proud I am of these young men that have come together, been able to talk about all of the different things. People have been able to express [differently beliefs] that they all have. The players have come up with some ideas on what they want to try to incorporate. Again, I'm very proud of them, very respectful of these guys."
View photos of Vikings players from Verizon Vikings Training Camp practice at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Zimmer's comments made reference to a two-plus-hour meeting led by the players at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center Thursday. The emotional discussion took place in response to increased social unrest following the incident in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in which Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a police officer.
Abdullah told media members at the stadium that he and his teammates are physically sickened by recurring injustices.
"We can feel hopeless as athletes sometimes in this place that we are right now as a country where you have police brutality, raising on at a rate that's just unbelievable," Abdullah said. "No children should ever witness their father being shot seven times in the back, regardless of the circumstance."
Abdullah noted that Minneapolis has "been the epicenter of a lot of tragedies that started this year." He and multiple Vikings teammates were part of a response to the death of George Floyd while in police custody that included a virtual Q&A between Social Justice Committee representatives and Twin Cities media members.
In addition, several Vikings took part in the “Change Starts with Me” distribution event that supported Twin Cities neighborhoods recovering from riots that followed Floyd's death.
Abdullah said the Vikings are calling for a proper trial, fair jury selection and prosecution of Derek Chauvin and the other officers involved in the Floyd incident.
"That's all we want, just to start there, and as a social justice coalition, as a group, as a team and as an organization, we're doing everything we can to build sustainable programs that will help the long-term effects of the lack of economic progress in lower-income areas, the lack of mental health support in some of these areas," Abdullah said.
He added that it's a two-way street, asking the bureaucratic system to "meet our intensity."
"I speak for my entire team right now," Abdullah said. "I'm one man, but the army that's behind me is much stronger when we're together, and we wanted a unified voice in this moment. I appreciate Coach [Zimmer] and the administration for allowing this to even be possible today."
Rudolph echoed Abdullah's sentiments.
Having been drafted by the Vikings in 2011, the veteran tight end is going on Year 10 of calling Minnesota home. Rudolph acknowledged the painful events that have taken place in Minneapolis and the surrounding communities over the past four months and expressed gratitude for Thursday's time spent talking with teammates.
"As Coach Zimmer said, I couldn't be more proud of these men behind me," Rudolph said. "And it's my goal as we move forward … we want to be an example for the entire world of what things can be like. You've got 80 guys, plus the coaches here, that come together every single day. Come from different backgrounds, different walks of life, but we have one common goal, and we work toward that goal each and every day."
He emphasized that teammates within a locker room might not always agree on every topic, but they put their differences aside to work alongside one another.
"We want to be an example of what things can be like. We want to be an example of what our society can look to and where we want to go. But we also want to be at the forefront of change," Rudolph said. "I talked to these guys a little bit yesterday about not getting discouraged. This organization has done unbelievable things over the past four years, and things aren't going to change overnight. We've got to keep chipping away. We've got to keep chipping away, and we can't get discouraged. We've got to keep fighting."
Rudolph gestured toward the massive video board positioned in the background of the team. On it sprawled a black-and-white graphic with the words BE THE CHANGE.
"Each and every day, just like we come to work to win a championship, we've got to go out in this society and be the change, and it's not going to change overnight," Rudolph said. "This team is working toward two things: winning a championship and being the change. And we're going to do both of those."
Vikings players have the clear and adamant support of the Wilf family ownership group.
The Wilfs have been involved in conversations with the Vikings Social Justice Committee since it was established in 2018, and they reinforced that support with a statement issued Friday:
We wholeheartedly support the message Vikings players delivered from U.S. Bank Stadium today and continue to be proud of how they are using their platform to productively and peacefully bring awareness to critical issues of racism and injustice with the goal of creating transformational change. We are angered and distressed by the continued horrendous acts of violence against members of the Black community, most recently the shooting of Jacob Blake. Together with the players, we are committed to taking action in three initial areas: 1) urging citizens to use their right to vote and increasing voter education and registration; 2) supporting the adoption of impactful educational curriculum on racism and Black history; and 3) advocating for law enforcement and criminal justice reform. These are not political issues but rather societal issues, and they cannot be transformed through sports alone. We will work to create further opportunities to engage our fans and Minnesotans as we work to end racism and build a community based on equality, empathy and justice.
Anthony Harris offered words of encouragement and a challenge to his fellow teammates, media members and fans.
The Vikings safety emphasized that the team is committed to doing its part.
"We're having those discussions every day in the locker room [from] different backgrounds," Harris said. "We're trying to bridge the gap, getting to know each other better, getting to know the community better, and we need each person at home to try to impact one life.
"If we can do that, change perspectives, get to know each other better, learn to treat each other as humans and see each other as individual people, and our uniqueness, then we can one day accept each other, and we'll be halfway closer to our goal," he continued. "So one step at a time, we're taking it together, and we'll just ask you to join the fight. Thank you."