Athletes Invoke Colin Kaepernick in Response to George Floyd Protests


The outbreak of civil unrest initiated by the death of George Floyd has brought about an unusual outpouring from players, coaches and officials in the N.F.L., which has wrestled publicly with issues of race and racism more than other leagues. In some instances, however, longstanding disputes about whether the league takes the issue seriously enough have been rekindled.

For several years, discussions about race in the N.F.L. have largely focused on Colin Kaepernick and the kneeling campaign he began to raise awareness of previous bouts of racial injustice and brutality toward African-American people at the hands of the police. While some black players came to his defense, the quarterback has been without a job in football and reached a settlement with the N.F.L. over his accusation that he had been blackballed.

This time, a broader range of players and team officials has chosen to speak out. Brian Flores, one of the four black or Latino coaches in the league, said in a searing statement that he lost friends in the N.F.L. because of their opposition to Kaepernick, and he urged those who were against his protests to show similar outrage over the killing of Floyd.

“Many people who broadcast their opinions on kneeling or on the hiring of minorities don’t seem to have an opinion on the recent murders of these young black men and women,” Flores said.

In contrast to previous outcries over racial injustice, some white players have added their voices this time on the topic, which has been a third rail in a league where three-quarters of the players are African-American yet almost every owner and top team executive is white. Only a few white players had joined or supported their black teammates when they took a knee during the playing of the national anthem in recent years.

“I don’t understand the society we live in that doesn’t value all human life,” Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, wrote Thursday on Twitter. “My prayers go out to every man, woman, and child that has to endure the effects of racism in our society.”

The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team urged a diversity of voices to call out social injustice and police brutality.

“For those who are not black, silence is the biggest betrayal right now,’’ the statement said. “The hardest part is watching friends who are not of color not even question what is happening right now. It’s time for us to start preaching togetherness, justice, and love amongst one another.”

Doc Rivers, the coach of the N.B.A.’s Los Angeles Clippers, recalled racial abuse he had experienced and urged society to have a conversation around race however uncomfortable it might be.

“My father was a 30-year veteran of the Chicago police department, and if he were still with us right now, he’d be hurt and outraged by the senseless acts of racial injustice that continue to plague our country,” Rivers said. “Being black in America is tough. I’ve personally been called more racial slurs than I can count, been pulled over many times because of the color of my skin, and even had my home burned down.”

The outpouring from players and coaches comes as most sports leagues remain shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. So far, players have not spoken in front of television cameras or had to reckon with the reactions of tens of thousands of fans, some of whom jeered players who protested in 2017.



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