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Interview: Washington Football Coach Ron Rivera

ASHBURN, VA -- August 27, 2020, The Washington Football Team was scheduled to practice at FedEx Field on Thursday morning. Instead, the team cancelled the workout away from the team practice facility to hold a social justice listening session among it's players and team officials in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake. Afterwards Ron Rivera met with the media to discuss the the event.

Opening statement:

“I just want to let everybody know, in lieu of the tragic shooting of Jacob Blake, we called our day today. We decided not to have practice, decided not to have a walk through. Instead, we had a conversation with our players. We created an opportunity for them to have a forum and a discussion as to what’s been going on in our world today, what it’s like and how they’re feeling. We wanted to listen to them, we wanted to hear them and we wanted to give them an opportunity to have a voice. So, that’s what happened today. That’s why we did what we did. That’s why we gave the players the rest of the day off to reflect.”

On how today’s meeting went:

“I thought the meeting went very well. I thought the players were very candid, very open about their feelings and expressed them. I thought it was a good opportunity for them to communicate. I thought they did a very nice job of handling it.”

On if there was a conversation about participating in tomorrow’s March on Washington:

“No, there wasn’t. I think that’s something that is going on, I think something that is very important. Quite frankly, it’s something we didn’t discuss. We discussed some of the other actions that we wanted to take at as a football team. One of the conversations was: what can we do? The guys were trying to discover and trying to figure out what’s the best thing we can do to help make an impact.”

On if anyone’s voice stood out in the meeting:

“I’m not going to get into specifics about the meeting and who stood out and who didn’t stand out. But, again as I said, I thought it was a very good conversation. I thought the players handled themselves very well. As I said, I was really, really interested in what they were saying. The biggest thing is I think a lot of them just wanted to be heard.”

On the tone of the team:

“I think there was some anger, disappointment, some concern for our future. Again, these are young men. These young men have children. There’s a lot of things that impact them, and unfortunately a lot of these young men have had this feeling for a long, long time.”

On the decision to meet in lieu of practice:

“Well, the impetus of this was I had the conversation yesterday afternoon with [Team President] Jason [Wright] and we called Mr. Snyder with our plan to cancel the scrimmage—or the workout—at FedExField and to have an open forum with the players. We were able to have that. After concluding that meeting, we decided that they would take the rest of the day off as a way to reflect. It was a conversation that was very frank between myself, Jason and Mr. Snyder about what we felt would be in good interest of the players. I thought the players responded very well to it.”

On the next steps:

“Well, they were challenged to come up with a cause, come up with something we can do. It’s been interesting. I had a couple conversations already with a couple guys that have put some things into action. So, we’ll see what they come up with. We’ve pledged our support to it. Again, we talked about finding one thing we can truly use as our spearhead as we go forward. We can support a lot of different things, but something that’s truly ours would be, I think. a neat way to handle it, and I think that’s what the players are interested in doing.”

On how long the meeting lasted:

“I would say it was over an hour and a half.”

On deciding what the team wants to do moving forward:

“I don’t know if we’ve given them a timeframe. I think the thing these guys need to do is they need to get together and talk about it. It’s important that they have something they can name their own, something that they can take ownership of and I think that’s the way they want to head.”

On if today will bring the team closer together:

“I hope so. I know in the past when I’ve done this as a player, an assistant coach and a head coach, it’s been very positive. That was the overall feeling I got. I thought our guys, again like I said, handled it very well. I thought they handled the situation very well, but you never know. We’ll see, though. I think our guys were right on point with the conversation they had together.”

On if Mr. Snyder and President Jason Wright were involved:

“We were there. Jason and Dan were a part of it. It was really an opportunity to give our players a chance to speak out.”

On if the recent allegations were discussed:

“I think the biggest thing, more so than anything else, is I can ensure you Mr. Snyder, Jason and myself, we take these allegations really seriously. We really do. We have an ongoing investigation. We’ll wait until we get the results of that investigation, and if any more action needs to be taken we’ll take it. I think at the end of the day and like I’ll talk about, you know a lot of things have happened before I got here. A lot of things have happened since I got here. I’d like to deal with those things that happened by really just going forward. I get it, I understand it, but we’ve got to create some change and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying some things, we’re changing the way we’re doing things, we’re changing the culture. I think part of it has been the people that have been brought into the organization. I think bringing [Senior Vice President of Media & Content] Julie Donaldson was a huge move on our part. I think bringing in Jason Wright even speaks volumes to the direction we truly want to head. I think that’s the important thing now. OK, we understand it, we get it and we take those things very seriously. We have to address them, that’s why we have the independent looking at what happened here. Based on those recommendations is how we’ll go forward, and I think that’s the most important thing.”

On if the conversation will continue daily:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that does happen. I would not. I hope our players do continue to discuss it because it’s good. It’s been healthy. I thought today went very well. If it is part of their conversation daily, then great because it means that they’re still thinking about it and there’s still some chance for some action. That’s the thing a lot of our guys did express, that they didn’t want this to just go away. They want to keep it alive, keep it fresh. There’s a regular quote that we used: ‘When the water’s boiling, don’t turn off the heat.’”

On ensuring the rookies are able to process what they are going through:

“I think, again, in watching our guys and really in watching [Senior Director of Player Development] Malcolm Blacken handles those guys and their position coaches, I think we get some good feel for them and that they do understand that this is all part of it now. There used to be a time where sports and politics and social situations were all separate. Now, it’s no longer that. It’s part of that and you have to be ready for it. I think that’s kind of what we’re trying to do is make sure our guys have an idea and have an understanding.”

On if they will reschedule the stadium practice:

“We will, but we’ll discuss that at a later date. It’s still something we have to do by the league. The league would like us to go out so they can have a feel—and so we can have a feel—for how things are going to go. The league is going to send down their people to kind of go through the activity and how it will be. We have protocols that will be put in place that we’ll have to follow as well as far as distancing and who’s allowed where. We’ve got to check on our headsets, we’ve got to check on our communications, check on our ambient noise, see how that sounds and all that good stuff.”

On the statements released yesterday:

“Well I think the first one, obviously, was a personal message and then the second one was the team. Apparently, I think the thing everybody’s got to understand is that Mr. Snyder put one out as a personal note, and then he had us do one as a team, as an organizational one.”

On who he consults with to discuss today’s issues:

“There’s so many people out there that want to talk about it, so many people out there that have things to say. I’ve been fortunate I’ve been in this league now going on 10 seasons and I’ve gone through a lot. I’ve actually kind of fallen back on some of my earlier experiences, some things I’ve had to deal with in the past. I talked to some of my fellow coaches. Quite frankly I talk to my wife [Stephanie Rivera] as well. Stephanie’s been in the world of professional sports and she understands a lot of those things too. She’s got a great opinion on a lot of those matters. I’ve talked with Mr. Snyder and I’ve talked with Jason about a lot of things. I think the thing that everybody has to understand is that nobody really knows. Everybody has an opinion. Well, not everyone has been through it. As we go through, we’ll try to make things right, we’ll try to do things the right way. Like I said, these are things that happened a long time ago that, again, hopefully we’ve learned from. We’re trying to correct, we’re trying to create a culture as I said before that can be a winning, sustainable one and the right kind of culture that people want to be a part of. We’ll continue to work on that.”

On what he wants to learn more about:

“It’s interesting because I’ve really—one of the things I told our players today is I had a player in Carolina that made a tremendous impact on me, and that’s Eric Reid. The biggest thing that happened there is I listened more so than I did anything else. The thing I’m learning now is just to listen to the guys, listen to their feelings. Really, it helps to understand when you just focus in on just them, just their thought process. We have a lot of things going through our minds, but during those moments today I really just focused in on what the guys were saying. It was really a tremendous thing to listen to, to their feelings. You come away realizing and recognizing that these are young men that shouldn’t have to worry about these types of things, and unfortunately, they do. It’s something that needs to be corrected so people can go about their lives in a manner where they’re free, where they truly are free of having any fear of anything. I thought one of the more poignant moments was when one of our white players talking about having been pulled over and only worrying about: ‘Oh, where’s my driver’s license?’ As opposed to what some of his teammates has to worry about when they get pulled over.”

On where his community involvement stems from:

“My father’s service, I believe. Watching my parents as we were growing up as kids. My mother was a Den Mother, she was a team mom for all of our sports, she was always there, she was a part of the Booster Club. My dad was always coaching, he was always involved in our community and just the fact that he served our country. So, I’ve always kind of felt that we have to give back. We should give back to so many people that do things. I’ve kind of got a little bit of a motto now: ‘I always believe you should give back to the community that supports you.’ When you look around, we’ve got a tremendous fan base. We’ve got to get involved with these folks. That’s one of the sad things about this pandemic, we haven’t been able to get out and get to know these folks and see where we can help impact our community that we live in and the community that supports us.”

On how President Wright will be an asset to the team:

“I think Jason can be a tremendous asset for a couple reasons. One is he played the game, so he knows what it takes to be a player on the field and he understands how not to be distracted. But, he also understands when you can ask a player to be involved during the season. So, that’s one of the great conversations he and I both had. And then in the offseason, I think just his presence alone will really help a lot of these guys that are looking toward careers after football. He can be a true sounding board. I can sit there and tell a guy what it’s like to go from playing to coaching, Jason can tell them about going from playing to being a business professional. I think that’s, truthfully, probably a little more honest for these guys because not everybody’s going to get a chance to coach. But, everybody can have a chance to step into the business world if they want. So, I think Jason’s truly going to be a tremendous asset for us.”

On the NBA boycotts:

“Well, it just tells you it’s serious. We have a platform now. I was one of those guys back in the day when you didn’t use your sports platform for that. But today, in today’s world, because so many people admittedly look up to the professional athletes, to the sporting community, to help social direction. Now these guys know they have a platform. So for them to do something that powerful, to basically strike right in the middle of a playoff, says a lot. It just tells everybody that this is truly important. I heard [Clippers Head Coach] Doc Rivers, and what he said was tremendous. It was so heartfelt and so realistic. Being our age, him and I being our age and being how old we are, we’ve seen a lot. We’ve been through a lot, a lot more than a lot of these young guys. So when a guy like that speaks, I hope everybody was listening because there’s so much truth in what he said. I used to, like I said, I used to be one of those guys that felt like I had to keep it separate. As time has gone on, we’ve come to the realization that we have an opportunity to voice our opinion. We have an opportunity to influence and impact, why shouldn’t we use it? Why shouldn’t we do it the right way?”

On the progress of the social justice initiatives the team has been involved in:

“I’ve seen those initiatives starting to step forward. I think probably the one that I’ve kept the most eye on has been the Black Engagement Network. We’re trying to do something weekly in the community, not just with the B.E.N. but with some of the other initiatives. I honestly haven’t had a chance to look at them in the last few weeks, I’ve been a little busy. But, it was one of the things that was brought up today in our conversations as some of the things our players can look at and get involved with. I do know that some of the money that has been spent has been spent on the B.E.N. So, I think that’s a huge step in the right direction, but we still have work to do.”

On not speaking up as a player:

“I just never believed that it was our place. We were athletes, we played the sport. Nobody really seemed to follow us or pay attention to us in terms of that. It was ‘We were athletes, hey they’re athletes. They do what they do.’ But now, because so much is being put on the professional athlete, the expectation of not just being an athlete is now being a trend-setter, a social icon. With today’s social media, you tweet something and it becomes a trend. The people I know, how many followers you have—it’s proven now that they have that ability now to make an impact. It could be a good thing, it could be used the right way, but there are people that use it the wrong way, which we’ve seen. So, there’s good and bad with it. But, I think that’s kind of what happened that today everybody is looking for influencers, people to help direct things. I always used to be concerned about that, you know I shouldn’t influence people, people should make their own decisions for themselves. But apparently, people think it’s good to have people lead people.”

On his relationship with Mr. Snyder:

“I think Dan’s been straight-forward with me when it comes to the football team and his business. The biggest thing is we communicate about what’s going on with the football team now in terms of the players, in terms of the coaches, in terms of getting ready for the season. There’s a lot of things that have happened, a lot of things that have gone on, and one of the things that I want to focus on is the now and the going forward. I get it. I understand that these are very serious issues and I really do. But as I said before guys, we want to go forward. We want to change. That’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to change. I know we said it, I know people criticize me for saying it, but guys please. Let’s try to get this going forward. There’s an independent investigation. We’re going to wait for the results from those folks and then based on those recommendations we’re going to go forward.”

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