SALT LAKE CITY — In the worldwide protests and reexamination of racism in America that followed the death of George Floyd while he was in the custody of Minneapolis police officers last summer, the NBA and other sports leagues around the world were at the forefront.
Shortly following the guilty verdict against former Minnesota officer Derek Chauvin on Tuesday, the sports world reacted quickly.
"My thoughts are with George Floyd's family following his tragic murder and today's verdict," Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith tweeted within moments of the verdict's reading, which set off rallies and celebrations in major cities around the country. "We must all actively work toward meaningful, systemic change."
His thoughts echoed those of the Jazz organization, which released an official statement Tuesday afternoon.
"Our hearts are with the George Floyd family today," the team's statement reads. "His murder — among too many examples of senseless killings, systematic racism and injustice — has only heightened the urgency to peacefully and emphatically work towards creating sustainable and meaningful change. The work ahead of us remains clear, our resolve is strong, and our actions must be stronger."
In the short time since Smith took over majority control of the Jazz, he's been among the league's more outspoken owners in the fight for social justice and empowerment. The BYU graduate and co-founder of Qualtrics established a scholarship fund under the Jazz banner, gifting a four-year college scholarship to students of color at Utah colleges and universities for every Jazz win in the 2020-21 season.
"We have equity problems across pay, across race within our communities. And, I just want to look back and say 'Hey, I did everything I possibly could to make the world a more equitable place,'" Smith said on an ESPN podcast in January where he first mentioned the program. "Our group plans on using this platform to be able to drive proper changes that, frankly, should've been done a long time ago, but to help better our communities."
Chauvin was convicted Tuesday of murder and manslaughter for pinning Floyd to the pavement with his knee on the Black man's neck in a case that touched off worldwide protests, violence and a furious reexamination of racism and policing in the United States. The 45-year-old Chauvin could be sent to prison for decades, according to the Associated Press.
Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell didn't mention Floyd or Chauvin by name but tweeted Tuesday shortly following the reading of the verdict, as well.
God is good all the time.....✊🏾🙏🏾— Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) April 20, 2021
Several other teams round the league released statements, calling for an end to racial inequality and stating that the work for equity is just beginning.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver released a joint statement with players' union executive director Michele Roberts following the trial's verdict, as well. The league and its players were at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement in protesting police brutality last summer, including former Jazz guard Nigel Williams-Goss in Salt Lake City and Weber State graduate Damian Lillard in Portland.
"George Floyd's murder was a flash point for how we look at race and justice in our country, and we are pleased that justice appears to have been served. But we also recognize that there is much work to be done and the National Basketball Association and the National Basketball Players Association, together with our newly-formed Social Justice Coalition, will redouble our efforts to advocate for meaningful change in the areas of criminal justice and policing."
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert echoed her colleagues, saying that their work in the arena of social justice is not over.
"This past year, we have witnessed traumatizing instances of police brutality that Black Americans disproportionately experience, with the murder of George Floyd at the forefront of the conversation," Engelbert said in a statement from the league. "While this verdict represents a step toward justice, we are reminded that justice is too often not the outcome for people of color.
"The WNBA/WNBPA Social Justice Council will continue its work to combat injustice and inequality in our country and hope this represents a true turning point for how the effects of systemic racism begin to be addressed. We stand with all those who have felt the deep impact of George Floyd's death."
NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released the following joint statement today: pic.twitter.com/r0XQkLssOb— NBA (@NBA) April 20, 2021
The NFL responded with similar language, adding the league's intent to move the conversation around racism and inequality forward alongside its players and teams. The sentiment echoed the expressions shared by most of its 32 teams.
"Today's outcome in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis does not undo the loss of life," reads the statement from commissioner Roger Goodell's office. "Mr. George Floyd should be here with us today. Our hearts remain with the Floyd family, and we understand the pain, anger and frustration does not go away even when justice is delivered.
"Importantly, even as we identify reasons for hope, we must continue to help move our society toward a more equal and just tomorrow. We are proud to partner with NFL players and clubs and remain committed to do the important work needed to make positive change in our society."
The NBA reportedly was prepared to pause the league in response to the events surrounding the verdict's reading, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, instructing each of its 32 teams to "be vigilant about the impact of a potential verdict this week … including the possibility of game postponements."
The NBA has five games scheduled for Tuesday night, including a matchup between the Minnesota Timberwolves (15-43) and Sacramento Kings (23-34).
The report followed a postponed game last week between the Minnesota Timberwolves that followed the police shooting of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis.
With the violence and protests in their home city over the past year, several Timberwolves players took to Twitter to respond in real-time to the trial's verdict.
"Justice and Accountability! Things I never thought I would see," tweeted Minnesota star Karl-Anthony Towns. "There's much more work to do, but this is an amazing start working toward the reform this country NEEDS!"
And an official statement from the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx reads: "One year ago, George Floyd was murdered, causing unimaginable pain and trauma for his family, the Minneapolis community, and communities across the nation. Our deepest thoughts have been with the Floyd family since this unjust tragedy. Throughout our history, racial and social inequalities have been ingrained in our society. We are hopeful that today's decision will serve as a step forward, but it does not ease the physical and emotional pain that continues in an environment where systemic racism exists.
"To our BIPOC community, the Timberwolves and the Lynx remain committed to influencing change, promoting impactful action, and using our platform to help heal and unite in pursuit of liberty and justice FOR ALL."
The NHL released a similar statement on the day's verdict.
"While we hope the end of the trial offers a chance for healing," the league's statement reads, "we remain committed to actively engaging in the movement for equality and we invite our fans to join us in supporting systemic change."
Major League Soccer, which respond to last summer's racial strife by forming the Black Players for Change group that was awarded the league's Humanitarian of the Year award in 2020, also issued a statement Tuesday.
"Major League Soccer is united in unequivocally condemning violence, discrimination, and hate in all of its destructive forms and stands in solidarity with George Floyd's family, friends, the Black community, and its allies," the statement reads. "While today's verdict cannot cure the indescribable pain of a human life violently taken, it honors the sanctity of George Floyd's life and reaffirms that a Black life matters. MLS, its clubs, the MLSPA and its players will continue to take actions to advance equality, peace, and healing. Justice for one must not overshadow the cry for equal justice for all."