Timberwolves Putting Words Into Action: 'We Need To Be Bold Right Now'

It’s been an inexplicable two weeks for our nation but especially for those of us in Minneapolis — the city now known as the home of George Floyd’s murder scene and a defining history of racial injustice and police brutality.

Our entire country was shaken when Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officers on Monday, May 25, outside of Cup Foods. The area of the senseless death has now become a memorial site for Floyd and other black Americans who were unjustly killed before him.

Floyd’s tragic death was a wakeup call for those of us in Minneapolis whose privilege has shielded us from the harsh reality that our home is not as livable nor lovable for our neighbors who’ve been oppressed because of the arbitrary nature of their birth and skin color.

Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas and head coach Ryan Saunders have spent the last two weeks mourning Floyd’s death while trying to navigate their franchise’s role in positively impacting its community.

“We know a little bit of time has passed, but our city, our community and our organization are still in a tremendous amount of pain,” said Rosas during Wednesday’s Zoom media availability. “We can’t not be sensitive to that fact.”

“Whether it be George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner or the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a light has been shined on the systemic racism and police brutality towards people of color, and it’s real,” Saunders said. “We as a community need to listen, we need to educate and communicate and get outside of our comfort zones. That’s something that our group has been trying to do since the tragedy.”

Through the pain, Timberwolves players, coaches, executives and staff members have sought out ways to take action. First, they must look inward.

Players Take The Lead

The day after Floyd’s death, the Timberwolves brought in author, public speaker and founder of Tru Access, Tru Pettigrew, to lead the team’s conversations regarding systemic racism and police brutality. 

“We sought to learn, to understand and to sympathize with what’s going on around our community and our organization,” Rosas said.

From there, the typical roles between coaches and players were reversed.

Players began leading uncomfortable, imperative conversations and sharing their own experiences while Rosas, Saunders and their staff looked for guidance. 

“(They’re the) youngest team in the NBA and they’re leading us into incredibly hard conversations that were transparent,” Rosas said. “They were very open about their feelings, their frustrations, their hurt.

“They took the lead.”

Players such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Josh Okogie, Malik Beasley, Jake Layman and D’Angelo Russell have all used their platforms to show support for their communities by protesting, speaking at rallies or volunteering with communities in need.

Towns shouldn’t have to plead for equality of all people by marching and standing in solidarity with Floyd’s loved ones just months after losing his mother to COVID-19.

Okogie shouldn’t have to share his story of experiencing the pain in Georgia after the horrific murder of Arbery only to relive that same trauma weeks later when he returned to Minneapolis days before Floyd’s life was taken. 

But their strength and advocacy have created an environment within their team that demands growth while allowing for honesty.

“I think our players of this generation deserve a lot of credit,” Rosas said. “They have an understanding of what’s going on, and they have a passion to impact that’s pretty impressive.” 

The conversations have fostered a level of humility from coaches and staff members who’ve acknowledged their privilege and uncertainty of where to go from here.

“I think that reinforces to our players that the questions they’re bringing up, the conversations they’re initiating, what they’re doing in our community is impacting people,” Saunders said. “It’s important to them and it’s important to all of us, but it has to be actions and not just words.”

‘Not Something You Put a Band-Aid On’

The Timberwolves recognize the importance of their internal conversations but are well aware those discussions cannot remain behind closed doors and private Zoom calls. 

To bring real, community-wide change, those same conversations must be had with community members — especially those who’ve endured the brunt of the injustices plaguing our city. 

“We need a lot of dialogue,” Rosas said. “This is not something you put a band-aid on. These are systematic changes that need to take place at all levels because it’s unacceptable, and the reality is it’s not just about Minnesota, it’s about our country and unfortunately our world. We have to make it a priority in our lives to make sure that it’s something that’s talked about, it’s something that’s brought up, it’s something that’s dealt with.” 

The Timberwolves and Lynx recently announced their partnership with the Minneapolis Foundation in which they’ll “address systemic inequities and translate community anger into actions,” according to the organization’s June 3 press release.

Timberwolves and Lynx CEO Ethan Casson and Vice President of Social Responsibility Jennifer Ridgeway have worked diligently to identify appropriate partnerships. The task will be an ongoing process that outlives the protests and news segments.

“The African American community needs to be supported, needs to be included, and we have to understand how we can do our part for the African American community here in Minneapolis so that we can have meaningful change,” Rosas said. “If we can be more involved in giving young boys and girls an opportunity to live a different life and to have a safer environment and it’s within our power, in our market and in our community, those are high priorities for us right now. We want to get to the right people.”

Right now, the road ahead is unclear.

“I’ll be the first one to say that I don’t have those answers,” Saunders said. “There are a lot of people who are a lot smarter than me and a lot of people who have dealt with this on a daily basis who don’t look like me who have educated me, and I look forward to hearing more from them. I need to continue to learn.”

But what is clear is that inaction has been and will continue to be compliance. We cannot forget about those 8 minutes, 46 seconds and the hundreds of years of racial injustice that preceded Floyd’s death once the Timberwolves return to play.

As a society, we have not done enough for Floyd, Castile, Taylor, Arbery, Rice, Jamar Clark, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Medgar Evers, Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin and so many more.

“This is an epidemic that affects all of us on different levels,” Rosas said. “We’re at the epicenter of it here in Minneapolis. We really believe as an organization that the league and the country look to us to see how we are going to respond and how we’re going to handle this. We take that responsibility incredibly personal.”