Inside Vikings’ social justice approach: How players, owners are tackling ‘drastic need for change’

Eric Kendricks didn’t hesitate.

“I’ll start,” the Vikings linebacker piped in from a video square of the Microsoft Teams call on Dec. 8.

The team's social justice committee meeting was in session.

The Vikings' partnership and $250,000 donation to All Square, a Minnesota nonprofit social enterprise investing in formerly incarcerated individuals, was going “really well,” Kendricks told an assembly including players, management and co-owners Zygi and Mark Wilf.

“Trying to combat the school-to-prison pipeline,” he explained. “Focusing in on housing and consumer credit issues that are happening with systematic injustice.”

The meeting, held two days after an overtime win against the Jaguars and five days before the Vikings visited the Buccaneers, barely referenced football. Rather, the Vikings’ social justice committee had convened to plan its next steps in combating social and racial inequities—including allocating the final $90,000 of the $1 million the Wilf Family Foundations earmarked for players to direct in 2020. 

This was the third straight season during which the team and ownership family had empowered players to direct a substantial social justice investment. Each season since 2018, approximately a dozen players have joined five to six calls from late spring through the season to thoughtfully engage on their community’s pressing issues and how best to combat each. 

By last December's meeting, it was not unusual that Kendricks weighed in on All Square, running back Ameer Abdullah then querying the group on whether the fully male team had done enough to support women. No heads turned as safety Anthony Harris enlightened the group on an initiative to foster healthy relationships among youth or when outside linebacker Anthony Barr explained how they successfully secured housing for an impoverished single mother and her family. They were halfway, Barr added proudly, toward funding a second mother.

“Thanks to each and every one of you for your passion and really putting the time and efforts into making these decisions,” owner and president Mark Wilf told the group. “Really, helping guide us in making the world a better place.”

This is the ethos of the Vikings' social justice approach, where ownership invests in initiatives directly but also welcomes players into the conversation.

“Not everyone on every team can say they are having these conversations like this every week,” Kendricks told USA TODAY Sports by phone last week. “The reason why I like it the most is everyone is on the same level. Everyone’s speaking from an even playing field, it’s not like any hierarchy.

“Everyone’s listening to each other’s input and we’re getting work done.”

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