An assistant coach for the NFL’s Washington Commanders issued an apology for his word choice after doubling a comparison he made on social media between the violent attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 and the protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
Jack Del Rio, a former linebacker who now manages Washington’s defense, downplayed the deadly uprising and questioned why the protests in the summer of 2020 were not treated the same way. His comments Wednesday after an off-season practice came the day before a House committee investigating the pro-Donald Trump interruption of Congress 17 months ago begins public hearings on the matter.
“The people’s livelihoods are being destroyed, businesses are being burned down, no problem,” Del Rio said. “And then we have a vacuum at the Capitol, nothing burned down, and we want to make it a bigger deal. I just think it’s kind of two standards.”
Amid backlash for his comments, Del Rio posted a statement on Twitter Wednesday afternoon apologizing for his word choice. Del Rio said it was “irresponsible and negligent” to call the riot a “dust-up.” But he said he stood by comments “condemning violence in communities across the country.”
His comments followed a Twitter post Monday night, where he said, “Would love to understand the ‘whole story’ of why the summer of riots, looting, burning and destruction of personal property is never discussed, but it is ???” He responded to a tweet about congressional hearings on January 6th.
Del Rio and coach Ron Rivera say they are not worried about whether the statement will upset black players who make up the majority of their team, some of whom spoke of police brutality and racism in the wake of Floyd’s killing two years ago.
“If they are (worried) and they want to talk about it, I would talk about it with someone,” Del Rio said. “No problem. Anytime. But they are not. I’m just expressing myself, and I think we all as Americans have the right to express ourselves, especially if you are respectful. I’m respectful.”
Washington defender Kendall Fuller, a black player, said he was not aware of Del Rio’s tweet. After a journalist read it to him, Fuller said, “I do not have a reaction right now. If I have a reaction, a feeling for something, I will express it with him.”
Del Rio, 59, has posted conservative opinions on his confirmed Twitter account several times since joining Rivera’s staff in Washington in 2020.
“Everything I ever say or write, I would be comfortable saying or writing in front of everyone I work with, players and coaches,” Del Rio said. “I express myself as an American. We have that ability. I love this country and I believe what I believe and I have said what I want to say. Every now and then, some people get offended by it. ”
The remarks generated a rapid backlash from some Virginia lawmakers, who for months have been considering whether to pass legislation that would encourage the team to build a new Commonwealth stadium by offering generous tax incentives. Two Democratic senators in northern Virginia, who had previously been enthusiastic supporters of the measure, expressed concern over Del Rio’s comments.
Jeremy McPike tweeted a clip of Del Rio in which he spoke with the message: “Yes. Just sealed the deal to cast my vote as a NO. I think what’s burning down today is the stadium bill.” Scott Surovell predicted there would be no more “votes on stadium bills this year.”
Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, a sponsor of the bill, said the comments were “not helpful”, but negotiations on the legislation would continue. The measure initially cleared the state with broad Senate support, but other defectors had raised concerns even before Del Rio’s remarks.
With five years left until their current lease on FedEx Field expires, Commanders has no stadium agreement in place with Virginia, Maryland or the District of Columbia.
Rivera, who hired Del Rio to lead Washington’s defense without any prior relationship, said he would not discuss anything he talks about with his staff.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, however,” Rivera said. “If it ever becomes a problem or a situation, we’ll take that discussion. Right now, it’s something I want to relate to when it comes up.”
Del Rio played 11 NFL seasons from 1985-95. He has coached in the league since 1997, including stints as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003-11 and the Oakland Raiders from 2015-17.
Washington’s defense ranked No. 22 out of 32 teams last season after being the league’s second-best in 2020. Del Rio said he likes his players and welcomes any dialogue with them.
“Let’s have a discussion. We’re Americans,” he said. “Let’s talk it through. I am for us to have a great opportunity to have a fulfilled life in every way I can. When I’m here, it’s about love and respect. I love my guys, I respect my guys, but I also love the fact that I’m American and that means I’m free to express myself. I’m not afraid to do that. ”
AP author Sarah Rankin of Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.
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