Jack Del Rio addresses Commanders, apologizes for ‘dust-up’ comments

Jack Del Rio addresses Commanders, apologizes for ‘dust-up’ comments

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Six days after igniting a national sports and political firestorm, Washington Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio addressed the team and apologized to players for his comments comparing the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to the racial justice protests following the death of George Floyd in 2020.

Commanders Coach Ron Rivera said the coordinator was “very contrite,” answered questions and also met individually with some players. The meeting lasted about 10 to 15 minutes, defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said, and most players who spoke to the media said they wanted to keep their thoughts on it “in house.”

Allen acknowledged Del Rio’s comments may affect the locker room — “Some guys might feel some type of way, and I think that would be natural,” he said — but insisted they won’t affect the team because a player plays for his family, his honor, his teammates and his paycheck as much as any coach.

“I feel like everybody makes mistakes,” Allen said. “I’m not here to judge. I’m not here to condemn. Obviously, [Del Rio] said something he shouldn’t have said. He owned it to the team like a man, and, I mean, that’s all you can ask for.”

While the Commanders opened mandatory minicamp Tuesday with several notable storylines — star wideout Terry McLaurin did not attend because of a contract dispute, but defensive tackle Daron Payne did attend despite a contract dispute — Del Rio remained the top topic of conversation.

After a practice last week, Del Rio spoke with reporters and criticized the protests that followed Floyd’s death, comparing the nationwide demonstrations to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which he called “a dust-up.” Del Rio issued an apology on Twitter, but Tuesday’s minicamp was the first time he was face-to-face with the full team since the controversy erupted.

Before practice, Rivera met with reporters and opened with a lengthy statement about the situation. He said he took the situation seriously, consulted the original text of the First Amendment and spoke to former NFL safety Eric Reid, who faced political backlash for kneeling in 2016 with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to protest police brutality and systemic racism.

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Rivera explained that he fined Del Rio $100,000 last week not because Del Rio exercised his right to free speech but because the defensive coach became a distraction to the team.

“The thing we all have to understand with these rights, these freedoms come [with] tremendous responsibility,” Rivera said. “And so this is about the impact made on our football team and the distraction that it has become. It’s a very serious question and topic, but at the end of the day, it did impact us. That’s why I did what I did.”

Del Rio will not meet with reporters this week and is not expected to until after the team opens training camp. When he spoke last week, his comments sparked a national conversation regarding sports and politics. Commentators from across the political spectrum have criticized Del Rio’s remarks and the team’s response. Fox News host Tucker Carlson called Rivera a “fascist moron” for fining Del Rio, while NAACP President Derrick Johnson called for Del Rio to resign or be fired.

“Today, im sick and tired! A dust up! 100,000 is not enough, money ain’t nothing to a person who is recycled through coaching,” Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed wrote on Twitter. “ … Man if u coached by him put your pants on! Its simple right and wrong, Wrong.”

What did Rivera make of the criticism?

“That’s fine,” he said before repeating his line of the day: “Football conversation, please.”

Rivera said he has spoken to Del Rio several times — “I’m not going to discuss that, okay?” — and emphasized he did not ask Del Rio to delete his Twitter account, which the defensive coordinator did Saturday.

Rivera added he believed Del Rio’s speech to the team was “well received.”

“He was very open, very forthright, very contrite and apologized and opened himself up to questions or opportunities for any players to come in and meet with him,” Rivera said. “He’s already met with some of our players and talked to some of them about what was said. I’ve been told those meetings went very, very well.”

After Del Rio’s address, Allen said, some players discussed it but he didn’t because, “I like to separate my political life and my work life.

“We get paid to do a job; we don’t get paid to share our political views,” Allen said. “Now, I’m not saying we can’t use our platform to express our political views. But I think I get paid to play football, dominate double teams and sack the quarterback. And that’s what I’m going to do.”

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“Everybody appreciates Jack and what he said to the team,” tight end Logan Thomas said. “Obviously, it’s something we want to keep in house. So it was just good of him to stand up there and talk to us.”

“He did what he had to do,” Payne said. “Still our coach. … We’re going to go out there and play ball.”

Safety Kam Curl said it was important for the team to handle Del Rio’s comments internally because “the media likes to take stuff and spin it.”

Allen was asked if he ever gets tired of the organization’s off-field drama. He said he didn’t care, pointing out he has been criticized on Twitter for saying he would like to dine with Adolf Hitler and for defending Del Rio.

“Anybody outside of this team is so unimportant to me,” he said, adding, “You’re not out here busting your ass with me every day. I [couldn’t] care less what people think on Twitter because Twitter is not a real space. It’s a space that people hop behind the keyboards and say whatever they want to say. I could give a rat’s ass what people say on Twitter.

“It’s not a distraction whatsoever. We’re moving forward and getting ready for training camp.”

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