No football questions.
If the 50-some NFL reporters on the Vikings' Zoom press conference call hadn't been muted, there would have been a collective audible gasp.
"We understand some people may have football questions," said Jeff Anderson, the Vikings' VP of strategic and corporate communications. "But we really want today to be about the significant events facing our community and the country. … We will have plenty of time to talk football in the coming weeks."
No football questions? There likely hasn't been a press conference or media availability organized by a team that has ever begun with these ground rules. The caveats are typically only football questions. Talk of "distractions" like politics, societal issues or anything "off the field" is usually discouraged.
That a team would mandate a press conference not revolve around football is a measuring stick of how far the league has moved—and of how far players have moved it—in the past month following the killing of George Floyd and the resulting protests that have gripped the nation. When Colin Kaepernick kicked off the social justice movement within the NFL four years ago, many got lost talking about his method—the kneeling—and not his reason. Though four years late, the league that botched the handling of Kaepernick's protests has now admitted it wasn't listening then. That something valuable was happening and the league failed to defend it and take up the fight.
"What the league is trying to express is the same sentiment that everybody is expressing: that that was a protest on behalf of police brutality before, and we missed it," Saints linebacker Demario Davis says. "Everybody has to admit that."
"I wasn't even sure if I would ever get to see that [apology]," says Texans safety Justin Reid, whose older brother Eric knelt alongside Kaepernick with the 49ers and faced an onslaught of criticism that stretched all the way to the White House. "But they did do that, and I give them credit for that, but now I need to see them back it up."
In one of the strangest offseasons in NFL history, teams and players have more time to spend talking about racism. The COVID-19 pandemic halted all the usual offseason activities—rookie camps, organized team activities, workouts. And with training camp still weeks away, and the regular season even further out, there's a lot of time to think and reflect on the killings that have shaken the nation and stirred many to understand systemic racism isn't a vestige of the past.