How Larry Fitzgerald formed his response to George Floyd’s death

Jun 12, 2020, 1:24 PM

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) watches from the sidelines during the second ...

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) watches from the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Minneapolis native and NFL star Larry Fitzgerald did not want to speak on the death of George Floyd without first understanding what he was dealing with, from all angles.

Floyd was killed on May 25 when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. His death led to protests calling for systemic changes in the United States to curb racism and societal injustices, specifically against black people.

It stung Fitzgerald, who left Arizona for Minnesota sooner than he had planned to try to educate himself on what happened in a community that’s his. Once back home, the Arizona Cardinals receiver spoke to community leaders — government officials, police and those on the forefront of fighting racial injustices — before publishing a June 7 article in the New York Times.

During that time, Fitzgerald avoided taking interview requests, fearful his words would be taken out of context.

“I felt like it was better for me to get home,” Fitzgerald said Friday on a Zoom call with reporters. “I left and I went home about 10 days sooner than I had planned on it. I wanted to get home and go participate in some of the protests, talk to some of the city leaders, get kind of a pulse for what was going on.

“Where (Floyd) was killed was like less than a mile from where I spent the vast majority of my childhood. I wanted to emotionally engage in what was transpiring,” Fitzgerald added. “I wanted it to be a true, accurate depiction of what I was feeling, being someone who was born and raised here.”

In his piece that appeared in the newspaper, Fitzgerald pleaded for Americans to bridge the divide by listening to one another.

The future Hall of Famer knows that is important for him to speak out, because change is necessary. But in his opinion, his opinion doesn’t matter all that much.

“I really don’t care what somebody that can catch a football or dunk a basketball says, to be honest with you. I just don’t,” he said. “I’m not influenced by some singer or rapper, I’m just not influenced by that. The people that you want to hear from is the politicians on the federal level and the local level because, at the end of the day, they’re the ones who are truly (affecting) the way we live our lives, the way our communities are policed, the sentencing of people that commit crimes. Those are the people we really need to focus our attention on.

“I’m not naive to the fact that people look up to people in positions with platforms. I’m not naive to the fact that you can potentially can make an impact. I’m just talking about me personally — I’m not really moved one way or another by the opinion of somebody … that’s not voted in by the public.”

Fitzgerald said, however, that it’s it is important to take action.

He would not say which leaders in Minnesota he’s spoken with about Floyd’s death and admitted he’s not kept up with the happenings in Arizona since he left. However, as well-connected as he is, Fitzgerald has spoken with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and attorney general Mark Brnovich in the past few weeks.

“I really want people to believe that it’s important now to not just do a lot of talking, right? I said what I felt, I said what I believe to be right in my heart,” the receiver added.

“Right now, it’s about the action. It’s about serving the community, closing the divide. That’s really where my focus is right now, trying to do that here (in Minnesota), trying to do that in Arizona and be a positive influence.”

On Thursday, the NFL announced it would commit $250 million over 10 years to social justice initiatives, targeting “systemic racism” and supporting “the battle against the ongoing and historic injustices” faced by black people in the United States.

The NFL also said it would designate Juneteenth, a June 19 celebration of the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved black Americans in the Confederacy, as a league holiday.

Fitzgerald commended NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s reactions in the wake of Floyd’s death.

“I’ve talked to him a lot, developed a really strong relationship with him,” Fitzgerald said of Goodell. “I feel like his heart is in the right place. He wants to be on the right side of history. He wants to make sure he’s doing things to position our game to continue to grow and to be a game that’s loved and appreciated by everyone. Trying to find that harmony, I’m happy we’re treading in the right direction on this issue.”

Fitzgerald admitted in his New York Times article that he did not experience harassment from police growing up in Minneapolis. He’s aware his celebrity that’s allowed him to travel the world has shaped his perspective.

“Traveling around the world, 107 countries now I’ve been to, I’ve met people from every single race, I’ve met people from every different religion, men and women, homosexual, heterosexual, transgender, and I’ve met great people everywhere I’ve gone. I’ve met great rich people, great poor people,” he said.

“It’s moreso about just accepting people for who they are.”

Optimism is possible to Fitzgerald because he believes acceptance between people is more achievable now than it’s ever been. He sees it firsthand in his 12-year-old son, Devin, who asked to attend protests and asks his father tough questions.

“I never try to sugarcoat or downplay anything,” Fitzgerald said. “I tell him exactly what I see, how I perceive it, and I let him kind of digest it the way he wants to.

“If he hears somebody say something you don’t like, don’t bite your tongue. Tell him, ‘Hey, that’s unacceptable. If you’re going to speak like that we can’t be cool.’ The more often you do that somebody who maybe is lacking confidence in your group will do the same thing in one of his conversations with his friends. That’s how love and courtesy and respect is started — hold people accountable.”

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