As the sports world continues to converge on the social upheaval surrounding the death of George Floyd and police brutality, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer gave his team some personable words that broke through the detached statements of organizations.
After releasing a statement to the public following Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Zimmer talked with his co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson about how he should address his team in a time that many have been hurting and raising their voices, PurpleInsider’s Matthew Coller wrote in his weekly column.
Patterson’s advice: “Tell them how you feel.”
“They’re going to listen. There’s no right or wrong,” he added. “The worst thing you can do is stay silent.”
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Zimmer: ‘I’ll Fight For You Guys Like You Were My Sons’
Zimmer, who was insistent his player stand during the national anthem when Colin Kaepernick began his silent protest in 2016, admitted to his locker room that he doesn’t have all the answers. Coller wrote about Zimmer’s laser focus on football that’s attributed to his past silence:
Some coaches might pay close attention to political matters and social justice and find it easy to speak eloquently about subjects like inequality. But Zimmer is all football. His dad was a football coach. He played football and then went into coaching football and has done nothing else for his entire life. Following an eye injury that caused him at least six surgeries, Zimmer said he would rather keep coaching until he went blind than stop for the sake of the eye.
Zimmer is also a man that fits the profile of someone who wouldn’t know what to say to players in need of wise words. He watches Chicago PD and watches film while hunting in a tree stand. In 2016 he was insistent that his players stand for the anthem when Colin Kaepernick was kneeling and has since made several remarks that made it clear he hadn’t changed his mind.
In a year that Zimmer watched many of the core players he built his coaching career around in Minnesota depart, the 64-year-old coach now has a younger team that he’ll have to develop trust with entering the final year of his contract.
And Zimmer started developing that trust Wednesday with a few words to his players in a Zoom call.
“He humbled himself greatly and said, ‘Man, I don’t understand and maybe I haven’t given this as much attention, but I know I love every single last one of you guys in this room and I’ll fight for you guys just like you were my sons,’” running back Ameer Abdullah said.
‘He’s Right There With Us’
Abdullah, who’s a member of the Vikings’ social justice committee, has a family history in civil rights activism. His father, Kareem Abdullah, marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., to secure voting rights for black Americans. Kareem later served in Vietnam, returning home to a country still mired in racism, Arif Hasan and Chad Graff of The Athletic wrote.
“That meant a lot for me because coming from Alabama, I grew up Muslim and black, so I was a double minority. I didn’t have a lot of people of the other color or other religion speaking for me, even when they didn’t understand my religion, even if they didn’t understand my background. So to have Zim come out and humble himself and say ‘I don’t understand but I stand with you’ was powerful for me,” Abdullah told Coller.
Fellow Vikings social justice committee and linebacker Eric Kendricks, who called out the NFL’s statement on the issue early on and has given his take in a vulnerable video post the Vikings released, echoed the same sentiment of Zimmer.
“It was a big thing because he communicated to us that he does not understand,” Kendricks said. “He is not from the same background. He does not share the same skin. He can’t begin to relate with us, but he hears us and he’s there for us. He expressed that if we want him to get involved with anything that we have going on as a committee, that he’s right there with us.”
The franchise recently backed many of its players’ stances and statements, donating $5 million to social justice causes and starting a scholarship in George Floyd’s name.
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