By STEPHEN WHYNO, AP sports reporter
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — An assistant coach for the NFL’s Washington Commanders has apologized for his choice of words after he doubled down on a comparison he made on social media between the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on 6 January 2021 and the protests following the police killing of George Floyd.
Jack Del Rio, a former linebacker who now leads Washington’s defense, played down the deadly insurgency and questioned why the summer 2020 protests weren’t receiving the same scrutiny. His comments Wednesday after an offseason practice came a day before a House committee investigating the pro-Donald Trump disruption of Congress 17 months ago began public hearings into the matter.
“People’s livelihoods are destroyed, businesses are burnt down, no problem,” Del Rio said. “And then we have a dust in the Capitol, nothing burned, and we’re going to make it a major deal. I just think it’s kind of two standards.
Amid backlash for his comments, Del Rio posted a statement on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon apologizing for his choice of words. Del Rio said it was “irresponsible and negligent” to call the riot “dust”. But he said he stood by the comments “condemning the violence in communities across the country”.
His comments followed a Twitter post on Monday night in which he said: ‘I would love to get the ‘full story’ as to why the summer of rioting, looting, fires and destruction of personal property is never discussed, but it is ???” He was responding to a tweet about the January 6 congressional hearings.
Del Rio and coach Ron Rivera say they aren’t worried if the opinion will upset the black players who make up the majority of their squad, some of whom have spoken out against police brutality and racism in the wake of Floyd’s killing there two years ago.
“If they are (concerned) and want to talk about it, I would talk to anyone about it,” Del Rio said. “No problem. Anytime. But they’re not. I’m just expressing myself and I think all of us as Americans have a right to express ourselves, especially if you’re respectful. I’m respectful.
Washington defensive back Kendall Fuller, a black player, said he was unaware of Del Rio’s tweet. After a reporter read it to him, Fuller said, “I don’t have a reaction yet. If I have a reaction, a feeling, towards something, I will express it with him.
Del Rio, 59, has repeatedly posted conservative views on his verified Twitter account since joining Rivera’s Washington staff in 2020.
“Anything I say or write, I would be comfortable saying or writing in front of everyone I work with, players and coaches,” Del Rio said. “I speak as an American. We have this ability. I love this country and I believe what I believe and I said what I meant. From time to time, there are people who are offended by it. »
The remarks generated a swift reaction from some Virginia lawmakers, who for months pondered whether to pass legislation to incentivize the team to build a new stadium in the Commonwealth by offering generous tax incentives. Two Democratic senators from 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 talking with the message: “Yup. I just made the deal for my vote to be NO. I think what’s burning today is the stadium bill.” Scott Surovell predicted there would be no more “stadium bill votes this year”.
Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the comments were “not helpful” but that discussions 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 to go until their current lease at FedEx Field expires, the Commanders have not entered into stadium agreements with Virginia, Maryland or the District of Columbia.
Rivera, who hired Del Rio to lead Washington’s defense without any prior relationship, said he wouldn’t discuss anything he talks about with his staff.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, though,” Rivera said. “If it ever becomes an issue or a situation, we will have this discussion. For now, that’s something I’ll deal with when it comes up. »
Del Rio played 11 seasons in the NFL from 1985 to 1995. He has coached in the league since 1997, including as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003 to 2011 and the Oakland Raiders from 2015 to 2017.
Washington’s defense ranked 22nd out of 32 teams last season after being the second-best in the league in 2020. Del Rio said he loves his players and welcomes any dialogue with them.
“Let’s talk. We are Americans,” he said. ” Let’s talk about it. I am for us to have a great opportunity to have a fulfilling life in every way possible. 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 this.
AP Writer Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.
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