Some players shared their own experience in dealing with racial injustice and their ideas for how to effect change in their communities. The team’s charitable foundation also provided an update on its work since June, when it began new initiatives in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Then for another 45 minutes, Rivera convened with only his players.
“We wanted to listen to them and wanted to hear them, and we wanted to give them an opportunity to have a voice,” Rivera said on a video conference call with reporters shortly after.
“There was some anger, disappointment, some concern for our future. And again, these are young men — young men that have children — and there's a lot of things that impact them. And unfortunately, a lot of these young men have had this feeling for a long, long time.”
Safety Landon Collins posted a message on Instagram shortly after the meeting concluded, calling for change.
“Never would I have thought I’d be living in a world where I would fear for my children riding to the park,” he wrote, in part. " … Explain to them that even though we raise them to see EVERYONE as EQUAL the world will not always see them as such. Make them understand that because the color of the skin, people may fear them or simply not like them. …
“We have to demand change. We cannot be silent. We have to speak out and scream that the injustices and unfair treatment of African Americans in the country has to stop. We must do the work. We must vote. We must seek change, and be the change you want to see. Most importantly we must educate ourselves and those willing to listen.”
The catalyst for the meeting was a conversation between Rivera and Wright, a former NFL running back and partner at McKinsey and Company consulting firm, where his tasks included co-leading the firm’s global outreach to executives of color.
In only his third day as the team’s president, Wright hashed out a plan with Rivera, and after discussing it with Snyder, they decided to cancel their planned practice at FedEx Field.
“It was a conversation that was very frank between myself and Jason and Mr. Snyder about what we felt would be in the good interest of the players,” Rivera said. “And I thought the players responded very well to it.”
During the meeting, players were challenged to select one cause on which the team could focus its efforts.
“I’ve had a couple of conversations already with a couple of guys that have put some things into action,” Rivera said. " … We can support a lot of different things, but something that’s truly ours would be, I think, a neat way to handle it, and I think that’s what the players are interested in doing.”
The meeting was labeled as a continuation of the conversations that started months ago. But for Rivera, the conversations started years earlier and sparked a transformation in his own thinking.
Throughout his eight years in the NFL as a linebacker, Rivera was of the mind that players — that athletes in general — were just that. Their role wasn’t in activism, and politics were separate from sports, he believed.
But in recent years, he has listened to coaches and players who have shaped his thinking. One such player was Eric Reid, the free agent safety who joined Colin Kaepernick in his protests against social injustice during the national anthem while with the San Francisco 49ers.
“One of the things I told our players today is I had a player in Carolina who made a tremendous impact on me, and that’s Eric Reid,” Rivera said. “And the biggest thing that happened there was I listened more so than I did anything else, and the thing I’m learning now is just to listen to the guys. Listen to their feelings. … You come away realizing and recognizing that these are young men that shouldn’t have to worry about these types of things. And unfortunately they do, and it’s something that needs to be corrected so that people can go about their lives in a manner where they’re free — they truly are free — of having any fear of anything.”
Rivera’s social awakening of sorts continues to be shaped by not just his own players and coaches but also those in other sports. He watched when NBA and WNBA players decided to sit out their games Wednesday in protest, and he listened when Los Angeles Clippers Coach Doc Rivers spoke through tears about Blake and the fears and realities of being Black in America.
“It was so heartfelt and so realistic,” Rivera said. “Being our age and being where we are, we've seen a lot, we've been through a lot — a lot more than a lot of these young people. So when a guy like that speaks, I hope everybody was listening because there's so much truth in what he said.
“Like I said, I used to be always one of those guys that felt I [should] keep it separate, but as time has gone on, [I’ve come to] the realization that we have an opportunity to voice our opinion. We have an opportunity to influence and impact. Why not? Why shouldn’t we use it? Why shouldn’t we do it the right way?”