NEW ORLEANS — Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson has announced the creation of a player-lead group to address injustice following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Saints All-pro linebacker and activist Demario Davis, Pelicans' guard and NBA veteran J.J. Redick and young star Lonzo Ball will comprise the 'Social Justice Leadership Coalition.' The aim is to "advocate for issues of change when and where we are able to in black and brown communities," Benson said.
Gayle Benson, who took over ownership of the franchises in 2018 following the death of her husband, Tom Benson, made the announcement Tuesday in a powerful message condemning police brutality. She emphasized that now was the time for action, not just words.
"We stand against police brutality in any form. Statements are words; unified action towards a solution is what needs to come from this now," she wrote.
Benson welcomed any other Saints and Pelicans players to join the coalition, and said she hopes their work will be a model for others.
"These players are passionate about finding a solution and working in solidarity with their fellow teammates. They are all committed to change, addressing action items and building towards future social change," Benson wrote said of Davis, Redick and Ball.
Benson's announcement came on #BlackoutTuesday, a show of solidarity on social media against racism and brutality following the police killing of George Floyd. Celebrities and athletes joined the movement, including the New Orleans Saints.
Saints head coach Sean Payton, broke a 10-day period of silence on Twitter to post a photo of a black square for #BlackoutTuesday. A few minutes later, he posted the pictures of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, along with a short but poignant statement on their deaths.
Many of Payton's players passed along their coach's message in support, with Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Thomas Morstead and the Saints officials accounts posting in support of reform as well.
It also came the same day as protesters shutdown I-10 in downtown New Orleans for nearly two hours in a peaceful demonstration that ended in no violence or arrests.
Protesters stopped at a line of NOPD officers with riot shields and a brief standoff ensued, marked by signs of solidarity from uniformed officers. The police line knelt down alongside protesters.
"One week ago today, George Floyd was tragically and senselessly murdered. Anger, sadness and protest followed throughout our nation in response to this unjust murder. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of George Floyd.
There are no written words, nor the timing of those words that can properly honor the life of George Floyd. We stand against police brutality in any form. Statements are words; unified action towards a solution is what needs to come from this now.
Both the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans organizations take a tremendous amount of pride in working with our players and community leaders to impact meaningful change.
Within the last few years we have worked closely with Saints LB Demario Davis on social justice reform projects such as supporting the local public defender’s office. We donated professional office space in Benson Tower to support Operation Restoration, a program empowering women impacted by incarceration to successfully re-enter the community.
We support these types of programs as well as programs that are on the forefront of the Players Coalition mission. There are many reform projects that face our society including working with our police departments to help improve citizen relationships, supporting the public defender’s office and working to impact prison reform. We are proud of our work with the District Attorney’s office supporting victim’s issues as well. These are all complicated and yet they must be addressed together.
These are not programs that were born out of this tragedy, but long before, in an effort to change a course of action and make systemic changes in social justice. One of the things I am proud of as owner is the leadership of our players on both the Saints and Pelicans. They share my sincere feeling in caring about our community and they care about the issues that face our community.
Today, we spoke with Demario, Lonzo Ball and JJ Redick. These players are passionate about finding a solution and working in solidarity with their fellow teammates. They are all committed to change, addressing action items and building towards future social change.
I am proud to have them in our organization. We reached out seeking their advice and direction on what we can be doing more precisely to directly impact systemic change for a more just world. These are daunting initiatives, but if unified in these efforts we can make positive change. Our organization has always been a beacon of bringing our community together. We have the unique opportunity to work together with our current NBA and NFL players to find more solutions. There is still so much more work to do.
I stand with them and I will rely on their leadership and direction to make sure we are making the most powerful impact we can. And I am proud to announce that these three players will join me in a newly created Social Justice Leadership Coalition, within our organization. I welcome any of our other players to join as well. Our goal will be to advocate for issues of change when and where we are able to in black and brown communities. Hopefully our work will be a model for others. They will have my full support.
A few years ago, our organization created a Diversity and Inclusion Council, made up of our employees. The Council strives to provide a voice in the company for all employees, especially those historically marginalized. They provide managers with training in understanding and eliminating unconscious bias in our recruiting efforts to educate our leaders on developing an inclusive recruiting mentality to create a better workforce.