If 2020 is the year to expect the unexpected, the past week at Redskins Park certainly fits the criteria.
In a turn of events that would have been seen as laughable just a year ago, the Washington Redskins football team has emerged as one of the NFL’s most progressive voices on the issue of police brutality.
Yes, that Washington Redskins. The team whose owner donated $1 million to Donald Trump’s inaugural fund and was run, until last December, by Bruce Allen, brother of former GOP senator George Allen. The team whose former coach, Jay Gruden, promised that his players would stand at attention during the national anthem. The team whose mascot has been, well, controversial.
The change arrived with new leadership, as new coach Ron Rivera assumed control of the entire building when he was hired in January.
Three of the Redskins stars have been out front in calling for change. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins marched with protestors in Washington D.C., defensive end Chase Young was on a video where some of the NFL’s biggest names demanded a better statement of support from commissioner Roger Goodell, and running back Adrian Peterson declared his intention to kneel during the anthem this season.
On Wednesday, Rivera supported all three, and announced the organization would be going even further to create lasting change in the black community.
He is creating a town hall program to ensure that minority voices are heard across the organization, from the players to the ticket sales representatives. Rivera is also creating a “black engagement network” to promote professional development and mentoring across the region, and announced that team owner Dan Snyder will be providing $250,000 of seed money, as well as his full support, to launch the initiatives.
Rivera said he supported any player’s right to peacefully protest, noting that he went through a similar discussion process when he signed Eric Reid, one of the first players to join Colin Kaepernick in protest, in Carolina.
“One thing I did before we signed Eric, and I did it again last week, was that I read the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the amendments and the oath of office, just so I understood everything that I needed to going into the situation,” he said. “When Eric and I talked, it was an eye-opener for everyone. It also helped me to really understand what the protest was about in terms of taking a knee. It had nothing to do with our military, nothing to do with our first responders, nothing to do with the flag. It had everything to do with social injustice and brutality, police brutality and working to get that corrected.
“I was fine with it because of what I had read and because of what the Constitution said and what the Bill of Rights talked about. The right to freedom, life and liberty. It is there, it talks about the rights that we have. It is their choice, their decision. I support it because it is in our Constitution. That is what our military personnel fought for. For our rights and for our safety.”
Rivera said he understands his responsibility as the leader of the organization, and wanted to make sure he communicated with all employees inside the organization before putting out an outward-facing statement.
“I want to make sure that people understand that we, that I, support the Black Lives Matter movement, that I want to listen to our players and listen to our employees and coaches and make sure we get this right,” he said. “Because of how long the peaceful protests have gone on, real change is within our grasp. We’ve seen it with some of the governmental moves in cities like Minnesota. I just think that there is a chance to do good right now.”
Haskins felt the same opportunity, as well as the ability to listen and learn, when he made the decision to join the protestors in Washington.
The quarterback did not appear as a featured speaker or guest, but rather as a regular attendee.
He said he has been a victim of profiling by police, who have asked him about whether he has drugs when he has been pulled over for a traffic stop, and wanted to lend his support.
“I was trying to think of a way that was more close to heart, more genuine,” he said. “Instead of me just making a tweet or doing a video, I wanted to go to the actual protest and talk to the people who were there, be in that atmosphere there, understand and hear the hearts that are crying out for help.”
He said he was thankful to receive the blessing and support of his coach and the organization – something that he, as just a second-year player, understands wasn’t always a given in Washington.