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Sports industry leaders speak out against death of George Floyd

Hundreds of protesters gather in Manhattan’s Foley Square to protest the recent death of George Floyd. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A wide series of US sports leagues, teams, and players delivered statements decrying racial injustice in the wake of a series of often-violent protests gripping the country following the May 25 death of Minnesota resident George Floyd.

Protests have erupted all around the country following Floyd’s death in police custody. The African-American Floyd died after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Chauvin has since been fired and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers on the scene have also been fired, but not charged. 

The tragic incident continued a long and ugly history in the US of unarmed African-Americans being killed by white citizens and law enforcement.

“Racism, police brutality and racial injustice remain part of everyday life in America and cannot be ignored…This moment requires greater introspection from those of us, including me, who may never know the full pain and fear many of our colleagues and players experience every day,” said Adam Silver, commissioner of the National Basketball Association, in a memo to league employees. Roughly 80 percent of the NBA’s player ranks are people of color.

“We have to reach out, listen to each other and work together to be part of the solution. And as an organization, we need to do everything in our power to make a meaningful difference. Even in this sad and difficult time, I know we can,” Silver said.

Silver in 2014 notably banned former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life for making racist comments, a key moment early in Silver’s tenure as commissioner. 

The NBA is planning a “Dream In Color” virtual community conversation for June 3.

The racial injustice protests also sparked a statement from Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League, which has particularly grappled with race-related issues in recent years. After former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick notably battled with the league over his desire to kneel during the National Anthem to call attention to racial injustice and the NFL later aligned hip-hop star and mogul Jay-Z on social justice issues, Goodell said “as current events dramatically underscore, there remains much more to do as a country and as a league.”

“These tragedies inform the NFL’s commitment and our ongoing efforts. There remains an urgent need for action. We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society. We embrace that responsibility and are committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs and partners,” Goodell said.

Michael Jordan, owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, former Chicago Bulls legend, and the most prominent African-American owner in US pro sports, said he is “deeply saddened, truly pained and plain angry” following Floyd’s death, and that he “stands with those are who are calling out the ingrained racism and violence toward people of color in our country. We have had enough.” 

The lengthy statement from Jordan on May 31 was largely out of step from his refusal to comment on political and social issues during much of his adult life. 

“We need to continue peaceful expressions against injustice and demand accountability,” Jordan said. “Our unified voice needs to put pressure on our leaders to change our laws, or else we need to use our vote to create systemic change. Every one of us needs to be part of the solution, and we must work together to ensure justice for all.”

Clippers head coach Rivers, who is black, said the ongoing protests and police brutality they decry “isn’t an African-American issue. This is a human issue.”

“Our society must start getting comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation and do the right thing. Silence and inactivity are not acceptable anymore. Now is the time to speak,” Rivers said. 

Steve Koonin, chief executive of the Atlanta Hawks, also angrily denounced the police brutality. Atlanta, Georgia, was among the cities particularly hard hit by protects with property damage and looting.

“Silence is cowardly,” Koonin tweeted. “Stop hiding behind your badges, stop breaking parents’ hearts, and stop pretending this isn’t happening. Start…loving each other, start listening to each other, and start celebrating our differences.”