Zone Coverage: Vikings players, coaches reignite social justice discussion

Zone Coverage provides daily stories on Minnesota sports teams.
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Eric Kendricks

This story first appeared at Zone Coverage and was re-shared through a collaboration with Bring Me The News

Wednesday night the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted the fifth game of their NBA playoff series, setting off a chain reaction throughout professional sports. Their response to the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisc. led to postponements across the NBA, NHL, WNBA and MLB as teams opted not to play out of the solidarity.

Though they didn’t have any games to boycott, NFL teams found a way to make their voices heard. Nearly a third of the league canceled Thursday practices, while the Vikings skipped their walkthrough to hold a two-hour discussion about social justice, then chose to practice as scheduled.

After practice, head coach Mike Zimmer, co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson, quarterback Kirk Cousins and linebacker Eric Kendricks spoke about an emotional day at TCO Performance Center.

WHY THE TEAM SKIPPED WALKTHROUGH BUT STILL PRACTICED:

Zimmer: We have a social justice committee of about eight or nine guys and they were in communication with Andre last night, and Andre was in communication with me last night. We came in this morning and Andre talked to them, those particular guys. They just wanted to get together and share their feelings. We canceled a couple meetings and went from there.

Patterson: There was a wide range of topics that were discussed. Helping low income families, helping with education, helping with rehabilitation for people who come out of prison, being able to talk about voter right laws. There were all kinds of things that were said there. I think the biggest thing that our team was trying to say is that it’s not a one issue thing. They didn’t want to make a statement that would only be listened to for a 24-hour period that we were just another team that decided not to practice today. Not putting anybody else down, but their vision is bigger than that. They’re really involved in trying to make change happen and what they can do to make the community here in Minnesota better.

Kendricks: Obviously, just from the educational factor, just getting everyone informed overall … informing myself. Just having those uncomfortable conversations. We had another one today. Those conversations are not perfect, but that’s the point. Nobody is perfect. There is change that needs to be had, and issues that need to be discussed, and we have to figure out what we can do as Vikings with our platform and our resources to help these human rights issues.

Cousins: I’d say that was probably one of Eric’s biggest messages at our team meeting. It was to say, ‘What are some tangible steps we can take that won’t just be about the shock value, but about the tangible substance that can improve our community?’ I think Eric and our social justice committee and our players and our organization has a good understanding of the importance that when we do things, we actually make a tangible difference and improve our community that go beyond just the initial 24-hour impact.

ACTIONS THE TEAM WOULD LIKE TO SEE TAKEN:

Zimmer: I think what you’re talking about with politics and policies, it’s about making sure we emphasize getting out and voting, number one, and secondly, if we can get the right people in to vote, or the right people in offices, that can help a lot of these situations. We’ve talked about ways of doing this and ways of trying to help, and it’s still in early stages, but those are kind of some of the ideas we’re throwing around.

Kendricks: Obviously our nation is filled with all these issues, and people may not be sure how to solve them all at one time. But that’s what on our plate. It’s about us going out into our community — as a team or individually — and seeking out how we want to give back and what we’re interested in giving back in. It’s finding those nuances where we can help on a micro level. Those little micro influences create changes and create ripples that can affect a lot of lives.

(During the press conference, Kendricks wore a shirt that read, “ARREST THE COPS THAT KILLED BREONNA TAYLOR.”)

Kendricks: We’ve talked about the killing of black people by the police time and time again. We sit here and discuss it over and over. Whether people point the finger at this and that, ‘She did this. He did this.’ We need these cops prosecuted. We need them charged. If they’re the ones that are setting the example, they’re the ones that are enforcing the law and they’re not getting prosecuted, how can we trust law enforcement? I feel like in a sense it’s like everybody holds Kirk to this high standard, you know, ‘He’s the quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings.’ We’ve got to start holding each other to the same standard, you know what I mean? We’ve got to hold our law enforcement to that same standard. It’s amazing to see it being brushed by.

Patterson: I don’t think it’s a political statement to want to get involved in your community and make things better. I don’t think that makes you a political person. What you’re trying to do is make life better for everyone, and this is for everybody. Not just Black people, white people, it’s about human beings and being kind and loving and caring to each other. That’s what we’re trying to do.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS:

Cousins: I think that’s most of what the last few months has been about – being a good listener, being a good question-asker. I had heard a line from someone else that said one of the better ways to understand is to stand under. I’ve tried to take that posture of standing under people who I can learn from. I’ve asked some teammates including Eric about their background and their experiences. They’ve had first-hand experiences which is why it can hit so close to home.

Kendricks: Just leaving the locker room as I go about my regular day. Small things I can do is just smile when I see people. Open the door when I can for somebody. It’s the little things that I feel like we take for granted. I will continue to push myself to not only not judge people but to see what side they’re coming from and be able to have a conversation with them to where it doesn’t get unreasonable, voices don’t start to raise… I’ll personally challenge myself to do that every day I leave the locker room. That’s one of those small steps I can do as an individual.

Patterson: That’s what it’s all about, the education of how you can deal with these situations so they don’t eat you up as a person. It doesn’t get you to look at the world with a bad set of eyes. I think that’s the most fortunate thing, that I work for an organization that has given me the opportunity to share those experiences with our players and also try to educate them on handling those situations in the best way possible.

Zimmer: Andre told me he’d been pulled over three times and had guns pulled on him. He wasn’t doing anything. He wasn’t speeding, his blinker wasn’t wrong, he wasn’t changing lanes, they let him go each time. That’s not right. Hearing some of these stories that I haven’t been able to walk in Andre’s shoes and some of the players. We had a player tell a story about what happened to him which is similar to what I’m talking about with Andre. That kind of opens your eyes about some things that you don’t know about because you haven’t lived it.

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