MINNEAPOLIS - While at least eight NFL teams opted not to practice Thursday to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake, the Minnesota Vikings were out on the field at TCO Performance Center following an intense and emotional morning sharing thoughts on social injustice.
The NBA and WNBA postponed play Wednesday night, and some MLB teams postponed games to send their message. The Vikings didn’t want their message to be “a 24-hour shock value.” Players on the team’s Social Justice Committee reached out to Co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson Wednesday night, wanting a team meeting for players to share their thoughts on Blake and other police-involved violence.
“We all come from different areas and we’re all trying to get along with one another and respect each other and treat people right and come together as a football team,” Zimmer said. “We had probably a two-hour meeting where the players expressed their opinions, their thoughts and I think that was probably more important than sending people home today. I’m proud of the team the way they went out and worked and practiced.”
Patterson, who has been friends with Zimmer for decades, said he has been impressed with his team’s maturity since Minneapolis became a place of civil unrest after George Floyd’s death. Patterson says one of the things he values most about Zimmer is they can sit down, have a candid conversation and they may not agree on things at the end of the day.
They can listen to each other, and it can ultimately create change. Patterson even said he would take a bullet for Zimmer.
“To me the beauty of the relationship is that each one of us are willing to listen to one another and gain knowledge. At least I understand where he’s coming from, and I think that’s the thing we need in our society to make change happen,” Patterson said. “I know the players on our team know that I would take a bullet for Zim. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it, that’s how close he is to me.”
Zimmer said Patterson shared with the team during Thursday morning's two-hour meeting that he’s been pulled over three times in his life. Each time, Patterson, 60 years old and a father of two, has had weapons pulled on him by authorities. Each time, he was let go.
“For me sadly it’s not new. I’m 60 years old and these things have been going on my whole life,” Patterson said.
“I haven’t walked in their shoes, it’s totally different for me. He wasn’t doing anything, he wasn’t speeding, his blinker wasn’t wrong, he wasn’t changing lanes, they let him go each time. That’s not right,” Zimmer said.
For Patterson, it was a proud moment for him to watch Vikings’ players lead a team meeting talking about racism and social injustice.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks, one of the leaders on the team’s Social Justice Committee, spoke with reporters Thursday wearing a T-shirt that said “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”
In the latest incident, Blake was shot seven times in the back in Kenosha, Wis., by police who were responding to a domestic incident. In the civil unrest that followed, a 17-year-old took matters into his own hands, fatally shooting two protesters and wounding another with an AR-15.
Kendricks has been active in demanding racial equality since Floyd’s death in south Minneapolis.
“It will take time but we will chip away. We will create change,” Kendricks said.
It hit even closer to home Wednesday night, with civil unrest in downtown Minneapolis after a murder suspect fatally shot himself on Nicollet Mall while being pursued by officers. A large crowd gathered near the scene with rumors spreading that a police officer had shot the suspect. Video emerged that it was an apparent suicide, but looting at several businesses had already started by then.
Between that and Blake, it led to intense and emotional conversations in Eagan on Thursday. Zimmer said the topic of postponing practice was never seriously discussed. They’re focused more on what they can do to create change.
“We want to make change and us missing practice one day is a 24-hour shock value. We feel like we can do more things with our football team and with our voices as we continue to move forward,” Zimmer said. “It was more about how we can change things and not just in Minnesota, but nation-wide.”
That said, the New York Jets, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos and the Washington Football Team all postponed practice Thursday.
The Vikings are planning to head to U.S. Bank Stadium on Friday, where their rookies will see the facility for the first time and the team scrimmage for a half. Minnesota's Week 1 opener against the Green Bay Packers is two weeks from Sunday.