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Arizona sports team leaders back players calling for social justice

(Facebook Photo/Ron Williams)

PHOENIX — Leaders from major Arizona sports teams discussed in a panel Tuesday how they are backing and joining players as they call for social justice and protest police brutality.

“There may be some people that don’t agree with some of the things that sports is standing up for, but it’s time. It’s time for change,” Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill said during a panel Tuesday.

Bidwill joined other top executives from major sports teams in Arizona to discuss activism in sports and how teams can enact social change. The panel discussion dubbed “One Team” was hosted by the HeroZona Foundation.

“It’s time for people not of color to stand up and talk about this and talk openly about this and lead on this,” he said. “That’s what is needed, and our players have said they want us to lead.”

Bidwill said one way the team is leading is by pledging $250 million dollars over the next 10 years to social justice initiatives in the state.

Last month, the Cardinals joined several other NFL teams in canceling practice after the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The shooting intensified demonstrations across the country against police brutality.

NBA players also protested the police shooting by sitting out their playoff games. Other professional sports teams joined in the sit-out.

Joe Walsh, vice president of people and culture for the Arizona Diamondbacks, noted during the panel that the team respects a player’s “deep, meaningful individual decision” to stand or kneel during the national anthem.

He also said the D-backs players and coaches took a knee during a ceremony on Opening Day against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on July 24. They held a black ribbon in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“A lot went into that kneeling and standing that day – it was powerful,” Walsh said.

Phoenix Suns players have taken similar actions. They kneeled during the national anthem and wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts before a game against the Washington Wizards on July 31.

Suns backup guard Jevon Carter also got some attention for writing the names of victims of police brutality or gun violence on his shoes during the last few games of the season.

“When you’re talking about issues that cut to the heart of our society and people have strong feelings about one way or the other, you’re going to get some people who are upset with you,” Suns president and CEO Jason Rowley said.

Rowley added the team is not backing down from supporting social justice issues and backing players who want to speak out, despite receiving emails and phone calls from fans and partners who are upset.

“At the end of the day, the concept of sitting by idly and doing nothing is probably the worst position you can be in and the last thing that our organization would want to do,” he said.

Arizona Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez also joined Tuesday’s panel, along with Phoenix Raceway president Julie Giese and Arizona State University athletic director Ray Anderson.

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