Washington Redskins coach Ron Rivera said he felt rushed in Carolina when formulating a response to protests during the national anthem. It made him change his approach this time. But one thing hasn't changed: his support for players who choose to kneel.
Rivera reiterated that stance on a Zoom conference call with the Washington media Wednesday morning, three days after running back Adrian Peterson said he planned to take a knee during the anthem this season.
Rivera wanted to do more than to just offer support for players who kneel. That's why, he said, he had not discussed the protests following George Floyd's death publicly until today.
"I wanted to make sure I got it right," he said. "I wanted to be very careful ,but at the same time I wanted to have action. I went through a very difficult situation in Carolina where we had this type of situation and, to me, I felt a little rushed going through it. Here, I felt I wanted to make sure I put it into perspective, that we had a plan of action, that we could make sure we listen to our employees, we listen to our players, we listen to our coaches and we have some actionable change."
In Week 4 of the 2018 season, when Rivera coached the Carolina Panthers, the team signed safety Eric Reid, one of the more prominent voices, along with Colin Kaepernick, throughout the protests starting in 2016. Rivera said they didn't talk to Reid about his plans for kneeling during the anthem until after they signed him. But, Rivera said, before he discussed it with him he went back and read the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Oath of Office. Rivera said he did the same thing during the past two weeks.
"Just so I understood everything I needed going into this situation," he said. "When Eric and I talked, it was an eye-opener for me. It helped me to truly understand what the protest was about. It had nothing to do with our military, nothing to do with our first responders, nothing to do with the flag. It had everything to do with social justice and brutality and police brutality and working to get that corrected. I had no issue with it because of what the Constitution said, what the Bill of Rights talked about, the right to life, liberty... it's there. It talks about freedoms and the rights we have. It's their decision; I support it because it's in the Constitution."
Rivera is one of four minority head coaches in the NFL. He said he understands the desire to exercise one's rights.
"When you read the Oath of Office," Rivera said, "to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, we should be supportive of people's rights, their right of free speech."
Rivera also said he talked to a number of people outside the organization for input, from sports psychologists to social activists. He also spoke with multiple people who have ties to the police, including his brother, a retired police officer in San Jose, California. Rivera spoke to the team pastor, Brett Fuller. Also, Rivera's father served for 32 years in the Army and Rivera has spoken often about the positive impact military life had on him.
"When everything first started a little over two weeks ago I didn't want to come across as insincere," Rivera said. "I know, but I don't. I don't want to sit there and compare to things I've gone through to what the black player, the African-American player, goes through. I wanted to make sure we went through this in a very thoughtful manner."
To that end, Rivera said the Redskins have created a town hall program led by six members of the organization, including Doug Williams, their senior vice president of player development, and Malcolm Blacken, their senior director of player personnel. Rivera said he wants everyone in the organization, from the front office to ticket sales reps, taking part in these discussions. He said the team has started the Washington Redskins Black Engagement Network, focusing on mentoring, networking and community outreach.
Rivera said Redskins owner Dan Snyder donated $250,000 to help start these programs.
Rivera has addressed the situation with his players via Zoom. He also said he was proud of quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who attended peaceful protests in Washington, D.C. over the weekend, and rookie defensive end Chase Young, who participated in a video of NFL players discussing the protests.
"These past two weeks have been a mix of emotions for myself," Rivera said. "I'm saddened by how hurt the black community is by what has transpired. I'm also proud of everyone who's on the right side of the fight against social injustice. I am here to help any way I can in making a difference. Black lives do matter. We cannot be afraid to say it, so I'll say it again: Black lives do matter.
"Because of how long the peaceful protests have gone on, real change is within our grasp."