‘Step toward justice’: Local, national sports communities react to Derek Chauvin verdict

The death of George Floyd in May prompted widespread reaction in the sports world. More came Tuesday after the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial came down. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty)

PHOENIX – After news broke Tuesday that a jury convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on the murder and manslaughter of George Floyd, reaction rippled throughout the sports world at both the local and national levels.

Leagues, teams and players shared statements and reactions in the hours following the momentous verdict.

“As Americans, as athletes, as business and community leaders, as role models with a platform, and as every day citizens focused on just doing the right things, our work as shepherds of social and racial justice never ends nor does our commitment to being a force for change, fighting injustice while celebrating and embracing diversity,” the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury said in a joint statement.

The two teams also reaffirmed their commitment to investing in and listening to communities of color, as well as using the organizations’ “voice and platform in the pursuit of an equal and peaceful society.”

Chauvin, 45, was found guilty of three charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The charges come with maximum sentences of 40, 25 and 10 years, respectively. Sentencing will begin in eight weeks, Judge Peter Cahill said.

Cahill also revoked Chauvin’s bail.

The NBA and NBPA, through NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NPBA Executive Director Michele Roberts, also released a joint statement on the conviction.

“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,” they said. “But we also recognize that there is much work to be done and the National Basketball Association and 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.”

A statement from WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert echoed those sentiments.

“This past year, we have witnessed traumatizing instances of police brutality of that Black Americans disproportionately experience, with the murder of George Floyd at the forefront of the conversation,” she said. “While this verdict represents a step toward justice, we are reminded that justice is too often not the outcome for people of color. … We stand with all those who have felt the deep impact of George Floyd’s death.”

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James tweeted a single word: “ACCOUNTABILITY.” Many athletes, including Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton and Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, simply tweeted a black heart emoji.

The story of Floyd’s murder received national attention almost immediately. Video of his death went viral, including the nine minutes and 29 seconds Chauvin spent with his knee on Floyd’s neck. Floyd, 46, had been accused of paying with a counterfeit $20 bill at a nearby convenience store.

Floyd’s murder sparked protests across the country, reviving the Black Lives Matter movement. Similar stories of Black men and women who died during incidents with police, such as Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, were highlighted as well.

The NBA and WNBA were among the first professional sports leagues to take a stand. Players voiced their outrage in interviews as well as on social media.

In August, the Milwaukee Bucks held a wildcat strike of their playoff game against the Orlando Magic in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Quickly, other NBA, WNBA and MLB teams followed suit.

MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark, a former Diamondbacks player, also released a statement in response to Chauvin’s verdict.

“In the wake of today’s verdict in Minnesota, the Players Association will continue its work as a resource and advocate for all of our members who have been affected by recent tragic events, including those who wish to express themselves publicly or privately on social justice issues,” he said. “We will also continue to work with Major League Baseball and local authorities to ensure the safety of players, their families, and the communities we call home.

“We all remain committed to the difficult work of healing and advancing the cause of civil rights and equal justice under the law.”

MLB has yet to release a statement. But the Players Alliance, a Black-led coalition of current and former MLB players created in the wake of the movement sparked last summer, shared their support for Tuesday’s guilty verdict.

“While today’s verdict doesn’t begin to approach true justice, it’s a step in the right direction towards course-correcting the disproportionate police violence against Black Americans,” the statement said. “George Floyd’s murder was the spark that lit the fire under millions of people of all races, creeds and nationalities from around the world who raised their voices against police violence and the racial injustices that exist in this country. That spark led to the creation of The Players Alliance, allowing our players a platform to do the same…

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“George Floyd did not die in vain. Our promise is to ensure his legacy lives on in our commitment to never stop using our voice, resources and unrelenting resolve to create meaningful, lasting change, both in our game and across our nation.”

The Diamondbacks, Cardinals and Coyotes have not yet released statements. In a short statement, the NHL said it hopes “the end of the trial offers a chance for healing” and invited fans “to join us in supporting systemic change.”

The Minnesota Wild, whom the Coyotes will host Wednesday night, said “there is still much work to be done.”

“The Wild organization is committed to driving social change and fostering inclusivity by providing a safe, positive and welcoming environment for ALL community members and employees,” the team said. “We are all responsible for writing the next chapter, and that begins with a focus on healing and unity.”

Meanwhile, the NFL’s statement said the verdict “does not undo the loss of life” and that Floyd “should be here with us today.”

The 12 jurors entered deliberation on Monday afternoon. They reached a verdict Tuesday afternoon, after approximately 10 combined hours.

After the verdict was announced, a small group celebrated outside the Hennepin County courthouse. Among those in attendance was Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross. His brothers, Philonise and Terrence Floyd, were present in the courtroom for some portions of the 14-day trial.

Joshua Iversen JAW-shoo-uh EYE-vur-sun
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Joshua Iversen expects to graduate in May 2021 with degrees in sports journalism and business data analytics. Iversen, who has been a sports reporting intern at The Arizona Republic, is working for Cronkite Sports this spring.