Ron Rivera Says He Will Support Players Kneeling During Anthem

Redskins launch initiative to bring actionable change to D.C. community

Chris Lingebach
June 10, 2020 - 2:14 pm

"Black lives do matter. We cannot be afraid to say it, so I'll say it again: Black lives do matter."

That's how Redskins head coach Ron Rivera closed out a statement, read emphatically and straight to the camera, to reporters on Wednesday in sharing how the organization plans to bring actionable change to the local community in response to ongoing social injustice.

"These past two weeks have been a mix of emotions for myself," Rivera said. "I'm saddened by how hurt the black community is by what has transpired. I'm also proud of everyone who is on the right side of the fight against social injustice. I am eager to help in any way I can in making the difference. Lastly, I am honored to work in an organization with so many people who want to change our society for the better."

Rivera opened the call by reading from a lengthy statement, which you can read in full at the bottom of this post.

Afterwards, he explained how the Redskins organization is establishing the "Washington Redskins Black Engagement Network," referred to colloquially as "BEN," an internal program aimed at strengthening the organization's "commitment to black employees through professional development, career management, mentoring, networking in an inclusive work environment and community outreach, while creating an inter-cultural understanding of the black employees."

"I have been tasked with leading this entire organization and I've always believed in the mantra that actions speak louder than words," Rivera said. "I wanted to share with all of you our internal plan that will allow our organization to come together, let their voices be heard, listen to them, and ultimately take action."

"BEN will work with organization executives and leadership to provide support, education, and racial equality initiatives in communities across the Washington, D.C. metro area, where employees live and work," Rivera added. Redskins owner Dan Snyder has fronted $250,000 in seed money to launch the initiative.

Rivera oversaw a Zoom meeting with over 255 employees in attendance on Monday, where he laid out the parameters for Ben, which will be led by experts on social justice from within the organization, including: Senior VP of Player Development, Doug Williams; team clinician/psychologist, Dr. Monica Page; team chaplain, Brett Fuller; Senior Director of Player Development, Malcolm Blacken; team employee Asa Winborne; and recently hired full-year coaching intern Jennifer King, whom Rivera notes is a former police officer.

"We talked to the employees. We talked to them about what our plan of action was going to be," Rivera said. "We really tried to think this out and make sure we had an actionable plan, not just talking about it, but we wanted to show that we're committed to actual change.

"So we developed this idea of having these focus groups where we can sit down and talk about things, discuss it over the Zoom meetings, as to what we can do to help impact our community."

Rivera says everyone in the organization – from the front office and players, down to the ticket sales representatives – is welcome to participate in the discussions.

"These town halls will give our employees a chance to share experiences, build camaraderie with colleagues they have yet to meet or encounter, and will ultimately come up with actionable items that we can do to make our communities safe for the people of color," he said.

Rivera says he will support Redskins players if they choose to take a knee during the national anthem, which will likely include running back Adrian Peterson, who said last week he any many other NFL players plan to do so this fall. "We're all getting ready to take a knee together," Peterson said.

Rivera credits Eric Reid, his safety for two seasons in Carolina, with helping him understand that kneeling was a protest against police brutality and has no aim at slighting the U.S. military or first responders. Reid was one of the first teammates to join Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the anthem in San Francisco in 2016.

"I was fortunate enough to have Eric Reid with me in Carolina, and it was real interesting because we went and decided we were going to sign Eric only on football," Rivera said. "We weren't going to talk to him about what his intent was as far as the anthem was concerned until after. And then he and I had a great conversation."

Before their meeting, Rivera says he read the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, all of the amendments and the Oath of Office, "just so I understood everything that I needed to going into this situation." Rivera did so again last week.

"And when Eric and I talked, it was an eye-opener for me, personally, and he also helped me to really, truly understand what the protest was about in terms of taking the knee," he said. "And that it had nothing to do with our military, it had nothing to do with our first responders, it had nothing to do with the flag."

"It all had everything to do with social injustice and police brutality and working to get that corrected," he said. "And so I was fine with it. I had no issue with it, because of what I had read, because of what the Constitution said, what the Bill of Rights talked about, the right to freedom, life and liberty. I mean, it's there.

"It talks about these freedoms and these rights that we have, and so I just felt that it's their choice, it's their decision and, again, I support it because it's in our Constitution and that's what our military personnel fought for, for our rights, for our safety."

Rivera spoke with a whole host of people over recent weeks in an effort to better inform his perspective.

"I wanted to get ideas and thoughts from folks, and really, as we go forward with this program, be well-educated on it and try to make sure we hear what our community is telling us," he said. "Because again, this program that we're doing, this money that Mr. Snyder is putting in, we're trying to keep it in our community, we're trying to keep it in the DMV, so that we can work with the local community to try to find answers, or programs that can help find answers."

Rivera says he was proud to see Dwayne Haskins take part in a recent protest, and of rookie Chase Young for getting involved as well.

"I was proud of what the community had been doing as they've joined together to condemn these social issues that have faced us far too long," Rivera said. "I was especially proud of a couple of our younger players, Dwayne Haskins and Chase Young.

"Dwayne headed into D.C. this past weekend to take part in a protest and gain a better understanding of how he can make a difference. Chase took part in a call-to-action video that some of the top players in our league created last week. Their message was powerful and one that every fan in the league should support."

Ron Rivera's full statement:

"A little over two weeks ago, a man sworn to protect us, to protect our community, murdered George Floyd in the streets of Minneapolis. This act of pure violence and hate sparked massive protests across the country and people everywhere banded together in solidarity with the black community.

"Right here in our own backyard – the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. – there were massive protests as well, demonstrations outside the White House, and Pennsylvania Ave., 16th St., was even transformed into a Black Lives Matter Plaza. I was proud of what the community had been doing as they've joined together to condemn these social issues that have faced us far too long.

"I was especially proud of a couple of our younger players, Dwayne Haskins and Chase Young. Dwayne headed into D.C. this past weekend to take part in a protest and gain a better understanding of how he can make a difference. Chase took part in a call-to-action video that some of the top players in our league created last week. Their message was powerful and one that every fan in the league should support.

"I have been tasked with leading this entire organization and I've always believed in the mantra that actions speak louder than words. I wanted to share with all of you our internal plan that will allow our organization to come together, let their voices be heard, listen to them, and ultimately take action.

"We have created a town hall program led by six members of our company, organizational experts on social justice. We have: Doug Williams; Dr. Monica Paige, our team psychologist; our senior director of player personnel, Malcolm Blacken; our team chaplain, Pastor Brett Fuller; one of our coaches, Jennifer King, a former police officer before becoming a coach; and Asa Winborne, one of our employees.

"Everyone in the organization from the front office and players, to the ticket sales reps can take part in these discussions. These town halls will give our employees a chance to share experiences, build camaraderie with colleagues they have yet to meet or encounter, and will ultimately come up with actionable items that we can do to make our communities safe for the people of color."

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