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Sports Figures Speak Out Against The Killing Of George Floyd

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The pandemic forced high-profile athletes off the field and off the court but did not silence them. Some are speaking out about the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. Police violence, you will recall, was the cause that prompted pro football star Colin Kaepernick to take a knee during the national anthem some years ago. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is here to report on what athletes are saying now. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Which athletes have caught your attention?

GOLDMAN: Michael Jordan for one - considered by many the greatest basketball player ever but not so great when it came to taking political stands. He released a statement yesterday saying he was pained and angry, and he wrote this - our unified voice needs to put pressure on our leaders to change our laws, or else we need to use our vote to create systemic change. I was also impressed with a statement last week by NFL quarterback Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles. He also has been somewhat apolitical, but he said as a white person who grew up in North Dakota, he's never known the feeling of having to worry about his kids going outside because of their skin color. He said it's heartbreaking that we live in a society that doesn't value all human life. And, Steve, in response to Wentz, an African American fan wearing an Eagles cap posted a video of himself sobbing, saying, that's my quarterback.

INSKEEP: Wow. I want to note Michael Jordan was just the star, of course, of this huge documentary that many people have watched in recent weeks in which he is criticized for not speaking out during his career. And now even Jordan is speaking out, but are there some people who are notably silent?

GOLDMAN: LeVelle Moten says there are. He's the head men's basketball coach at North Carolina Central University. He said in an interview that white basketball and football coaches from the most prominent college conferences in the nation are not speaking up - and he says they have an obligation to speak out about racial injustice when you consider the young African-American athletes who've made many of these coaches very rich with their huge salaries. Now, some big name coaches have responded publicly to Floyd's death, including Michigan State men's basketball coach Tom Izzo and Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

INSKEEP: Would you tell me about this editorial statement in the Houston Chronicle which presented athlete voices and did a little more?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, it was quite affecting. It was a full-page editorial statement - a picture of George Floyd at the top, a picture of Colin Kaepernick kneeling at the bottom - and between those pictures, one section says imagine if we'd embraced Colin Kaepernick's peaceful protest and paid attention to the issue he was trying to address.

INSKEEP: Tom, I want to note there are people who criticize the NFL for not paying more attention to Kaepernick's message. Is the league saying anything now?

GOLDMAN: Well, it has. League Commissioner Roger Goodell said, these tragedies inform the NFL's commitment and our ongoing efforts, and there remains an urgent need for action. Now, that has gotten a lot of criticism for being hypocritical. Where was the commitment, critics ask, when the NFL let Kaepernick's protests be politicized from the start - a debate over whether or not he was patriotic rather than a discussion about the issues he was trying to raise. And it's still political. He's a pariah - no NFL owners have hired him. Critics also wonder, Steve, where's the commitment when the league still is dealing with a significant lack of diversity in influential head coach and general manager positions? So Goodell said good things this weekend, but many feel the NFL's actions don't match the words.

INSKEEP: Tom, thanks for the update.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's sports correspondent, Tom Goldman, this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.