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Week In Sports: Minnesota Teams Respond To Death Of George Floyd

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And this week, the world of sports involves the real world and the press of events that don't stop, even during a pandemic. Following the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, two hometown teams are speaking out.

ESPN's Howard Bryant joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Please tell us what two local teams have come out to say there in Minneapolis about the death of George Floyd.

BRYANT: Well both teams, the Minnesota Vikings, the football team, and Minnesota Lynx, the WNBA team, the women's basketball team, both came out in support - it wasn't huge, you know - the huge statement - anything particularly profound. But what was profound about it - what was important was that it doesn't happen very often. You see - I think the University of Minnesota, as well, did something similar in terms of putting out a statement. And the remarkable nature of this is simply that, you see, professional sports, Scott, have backed themselves into a corner, especially post-9/11, in terms of they have embedded police into their business model. You have these law enforcement appreciation days. You have police as part of the entertainment of the game in terms of hometown heroes and all of this. And when you have moments like this, when you have these moments of unrest, when you have these moments of police brutality or impropriety, you see the box that these teams are put in. And I think this is really the first time since 2015 when the - during the Freddie Gray crisis, where the Baltimore Orioles owner, John Angelos, came out in support of the protesters and said that Baltimore and the Orioles belong to the entire city. And it's not a huge statement, but it means a whole lot, considering that virtually no other team in the country has said anything in support of any of the - for the families or any of the people who are affected by police violence because they're - you know, they're business partners with the police, so they're sort of caught in the middle. So when you actually hear one of the organizations come out and say something, it seems to make news.

SIMON: Well, let me draw you out about this because, you know, you devote some attention to this, too, in in your book "Full Dissidence." Now, in these times when sports teams, which, as you note often are glad and strive to associate themselves with police, fire officers - but, you know, frontline workers, first responders and what I'll call conspicuous exercises of patriotism. Can they really stand aside from social justice issues? Can they say, look. We're an important asset in the community and then be apart from the community?

BRYANT: Well, that's exactly right. And that's one of the hard parts that's taking place here. These are the questions, and these are the reasons why you have some people say - and a lot of people have said for years that none of this should be part of the business model. The players are - should be allowed to say what they want to say because they are individuals. But if you're acting on behalf of the city, you can't have it both ways. And especially when you have a moment like this, where you have massive, massive protest across the country, can you have it both ways? Can you be a part of the community and then decide? And especially when you have ownerships that are clearly partisan in their own right. We tell the players we don't want them to be political, but at the same time, the owners are extremely political. And I think you can. I think that especially because so many of these stadiums are funded by your taxes, I think there has to be some form of acknowledging...

SIMON: Yes, I had forgotten that part of it, yeah.

BRYANT: Exactly. That you're actually part of this community. But I think where you run into the problem is where - when the organizations are punishing the players for their voices, as we obviously know with Colin Kaepernick. When you're punishing, it's one thing. It's another thing when you try to come out in support in recognizing that you are absolutely part of the community.

SIMON: We want to note in the seconds we have left, Colin Kaepernick, I gather, has set up a legal defense fund for Minneapolis protesters.

BRYANT: Well, I think, Scott, that's one of the other things - in retrospect, you start looking at this, and you realize that his concerns were right all along. And let's not forget the vice president came out and said, we support peaceful protest, but they didn't support his.

SIMON: ESPN's columnist Howard Bryant, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.