Eric Kendricks is coming off a season in which he became just the second Vikings linebacker to be named first-team all-pro. If you ask his brother, his offseason has been just as impressive.
Kendricks, his star status having given him a national platform, has become one of the NFL’s most prominent voices on social justice. He has been outspoken since the May 25 death of George Floyd while in custody of a Minneapolis police officer.
“I’m very proud of Eric taking that stance with all this stuff going on,” said Kendricks’ older brother, longtime NFL linebacker Mychal Kendricks. “He just came to the realization that something needed to be said and he took that initiative and did just that. I think that it takes a brave soul to do righteous acts.”
Kendricks, 28, has been a member of the Vikings’ social justice committee since it was formed in 2018. He gained national notice when he called out the NFL in a tweet the week after Floyd’s death, an incident that led to protests around the country.
On May 30, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell put out a statement that read, in part, the “NFL family is greatly saddened by the tragic events across our country” and that “the protesters’ reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel.”
Kendricks didn’t believe Goodell’s statement went far enough. So on June 2, Kendricks, who is Black, tweeted, “@NFL what actual steps are you taking to support the fight for justice and system reform? Your statement said nothing. Your league is built on black athletes. Vague answers do nothing. Let the players know what you’re ACTUALLY doing. And we know what silence means.”
The tweet included a logo similar to the NFL’s shield with the words. “WE WANT ANSWERS.’’
About an hour after Kendricks’ tweet, Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, Kendricks’ former roommate at UCLA and a member of the 10-person social justice committee, sent out a similar tweet. Later that week, the two appeared in a video with other Black NFL players calling upon the league to do more.
The reaction was swift.
On June 5, Goodell sent out a video in which he said, in part, “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter. I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country.”
Mychal Kendricks believes his brother’s tweet got that ball rolling.
“It made a pretty big impact,” said Mychal Kendricks, a free agent who spent the past eight seasons with Philadelphia and Seattle. “It was a pretty big situation, a pretty big deal. We had spoken about things that could be done, and yeah, it was just a good thing that Eric did.”
One reason his brother’s tweet had such a big impact was Eric Kendricks’ performance on the field, Mychal said. Kendricks made his first Pro Bowl after last season and joined Matt Blair (1980) as the only first-team all-pro Minnesota linebackers.
“A lot of these issues I’ve felt really strongly about throughout my whole career, but whether I decided to speak up so actively about it was kind of my choice at the time,” said Kendricks, entering his sixth NFL season after being a second-round pick in 2015.
“I felt like since then I’ve definitely educated myself. I encourage everyone to just further educate themselves on the topic and ask questions and have difficult conversations and just surround yourself with people who challenge you and keep this at the forefront of conversation because these are important issues.”
Kendricks has been active throughout the summer in speaking out on social media. He posted a video, which was tweeted out by the Vikings, in which he had to hold back tears when talking about Floyd’s death and said it “breaks my heart” what happened.
Since Floyd’s death on May 25, members of the Vikings’ social justice committee have closely watched the video of former officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 48 seconds before Floyd, gasping for air, died. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and other charges, and three other officers on the scene have been charged with aiding and abetting him.
On June 6, Kendricks was among 10 Vikings players to meet with Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and three officers about how the department can improve relations with the African-American community.
“I’ve been trying to involve myself with that a lot,” Kendricks said. “We had conversations with the police chief in person, just trying to ask questions and get things answered, get a better understanding from both sides.”
Kendricks said the social justice committee has discussed with the police department issues involving working with youth, those who are jailed and can’t afford bail, and “rehabilitating the people who get in trouble.”
Last Tuesday, Kendricks and Barr got on a conference call with individuals in custody at the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center.
“(We) just had a conversation with those kids,” Kendricks said. “Those kids are locked up and quarantined right now in juvenile detention and a lot of the resources that they normally have are even further restricted and they can get a little lonely in there, so it’s important for us to check in with them.”
The Vikings’ social justice committee has done work with Project Success, an organization that inspires young people to plan for the future, and All Square, an organization designed to help those that have been convicted of a crime get the opportunities they need.
‘I have a platform’
“I’m proud of Eric,’’ said Vikings co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson, a member of the social justice committee. “Eric is very smart, intelligent, but most importantly his heart is in the right place. He’s a tremendous man. Obviously, he’s a great football player, and we’ve all seen him grow throughout the years, but I have a lot of pride in the whole group of our social justice group.”
Other Vikings members of the social justice committee include running backs Alexander Mattison and Ameer Abdullah, safeties Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith, quarterback Kirk Cousins, wide receiver Adam Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph.
The Wilf family, which owns the Vikings, has donated $5 million to social justice causes. The social justice committee, funded by the Wilfs, has started the George Floyd Legacy Scholarship with an establishing gift of $125,000. The scholarship will be given annually to a college-bound African-American student.
“Football is cool, I love playing football, I love representing myself like that,” Kendricks said when asked about his work in the community. “But if I can represent my family in other ways like social justice issues or things like that that affect my community, I want to be able to do that because I do have a platform.”
Kendricks grew up in Fresno, Calif., and starred at Hoover High School before attending UCLA. His former high school coach, Pat Plummer, has been impressed with what he has done on and off the field.
“He’s a very smart young man and just a well-rounded individual, and they couldn’t have a better guy speaking out and voicing opinions than Eric because he’s well-respected and well-liked,” Plummer said. “It’s nice to see that he’s at the forefront of this thing.”
Kendricks played quarterback and linebacker at Hoover and was a team captain in 2009. Plummer retired after the next season.
“I’ve noticed some of the things that Eric has been talking about and he is bringing attention to and I think it’s a great thing,” said Plummer, 70. “And I think he’s a great young man to be able to do those things.’’
Kendricks played one season, 2007, on the Hoover varsity with Mychal. Seventeen months older, Mychal starred at California before the Eagles drafted him with a second-round pick in 2012. He said he has received a number of calls from teams and anticipates signing soon as a free agent.
Mychal said his brother encountered racism when growing up but he didn’t offer specifics. He said he has talked regularly over the years with his brother about social justice and has been impressed with the manner in which he lately has addressed the subject.
“It just shows the true quality of leadership when you get people who are in positions like his and other NFL players like him that they use their platforms to bring awareness and stand up for what is obviously right,” Mychal said. “Anytime anybody has a platform like his and uses it as such, I believe that it holds a lot of weight. I’m very proud of him.”