Del Rio’s comments were in response to questions related to a social media post he issued earlier in the week. The 59-year old veteran football coach has been outspoken on Twitter in each of the three offseasons he’s been with the Commanders, often on conservative political issues.
The latest tweet came Monday night in response to a report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, about the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, which after 11 months and more than 1,000 interviews will begin holding hearings Thursday. Del Rio wrote, “would love to understand ‘the whole story’ about why the summer of riots, looting, burning and the destruction of personal property is never discussed but this is ??? #CommonSense.”
Del Rio’s comments seem to be at odds with recent racial justice messaging from the NFL and run counter to the way the league and his own team responded to Floyd’s death. In June 2020, Washington Coach Ron Rivera said he would support players who knelt during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice and police brutality, and in August, the head coach canceled a practice to hold a team-wide discussion about racial justice following the shooting of Jacob Blake.
Commanders president Jason Wright has spearheaded the team’s recent efforts to promote racial justice and staff diversity. This has become a theme in the team’s search for a new stadium site, when Maryland officials pointed out the social change the team could make by keeping its venue in majority-Black Prince George’s County. A team spokesman did not respond Wednesday to an interview request for Wright.
Virginia lawmakers are currently considering legislation meant to entice the Commanders to relocate to Virginia, and some indicated Del Rio’s comments could resonate in Richmond. “Just sealed the deal to cast my vote as a NO,” state Sen. Jeremy S. McPike (D-Prince William) tweeted Wednesday. “I think what’s burning down today is the stadium.” McPike had previously expressed reservations about the proposed stadium legislation and shared transportation concerns around a potential Woodbridge location.
Virginia state Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) was similarly critical of the Commanders coach, saying Del Rio’s comments “makes clear to me that we won’t be seeing any more votes on stadium bills this year.”
Del Rio’s remarks also drew the ire of some fans and commentators. Former Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall tweeted a clown emoji at the veteran coach, and former Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin called Del Rio “an ignorant, ignorant man.”
“Protesting against the murder of someone is not the same as attempting a coup because you didn’t get your way in an election,” Baldwin tweeted. “Not saying vandalism is ok but lets not try to pretend these are the same.”
Former Washington player Brian Mitchell called on Rivera to address the situation.
“How do [you] expect anybody on that team to be straightforward when you’ve got a guy like that in the defensive coordinator position?” Mitchell said on his 106.7 The Fan radio show Wednesday.
Mitchell compared Del Rio’s comments to a furious Rivera outburst that followed a collision between two players at Wednesday’s practice.
“I don’t give a damn about Ron Rivera getting mad at somebody having a collision until he gets off his a– and addresses this damn idiot that he hired as a defensive coordinator,” Mitchell said. “That’s what I give a damn about. And if he can’t do it, then he’s the wrong damn man to be leading this damn football team.”
Rivera declined to discuss Del Rio’s tweets with reporters on Wednesday and would not say whether he’d discussed them with his defensive coordinator. Rivera said he does “not necessarily” worry Del Rio’s comments will affect the locker room, which is predominantly Black and includes many players who supported the Floyd protests with words and social media posts two years ago. If it does become an issue, Rivera said, he’ll deal with it.
“How I deal with it, I’m not going to share with you guys because it’s going to be a private matter,” he added.
Del Rio played 11 seasons in the NFL before embarking on a coaching career. He previously served as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars (2003-11) and the Oakland Raiders (2015-017). Del Rio said Wednesday he wasn’t worried that his tweets would offend players — in part because he didn’t think “race had anything to do with” the Jan. 6 insurrection — or that his Twitter use could affect the team.
“Anything that I ever say or write, I’d be comfortable saying or writing in front of everybody that 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’ve said what I want to say. Every now and then, there’s some people that get offended by it.”
Del Rio said that if any of his players were offended by his comments, he would welcome a discussion.
“I’d talk about it with anybody,” he said. “No problem. At any time. But they’re not [offended]. I’m just expressing myself, and I think we all as Americans have a right to express ourselves, especially if you’re being respectful. I’m being respectful. I just asked a simple question. Really. Let’s get right down to it. What did I ask? A simple question. Why are we not looking into those things [around the 2020 protests]?”
In an interview with NBC Sports Washington, one of the defense’s most vocal leaders, tackle Jonathan Allen, said that, while he was aware of Del Rio’s tweets, they haven’t prompted much discussion in the locker room.
“At the end of the day, you can have a difference of opinion and still respect one another,” Allen said. “I feel like that’s what our country is about. That’s what our team’s about. So, I mean, me personally, I don’t care about his opinion as long as he shows up every day and works hard. That’s what I want from my defensive coordinator.”
Veteran cornerback Kendall Fuller said he hadn’t seen Del Rio’s tweet, and after it was read to him, said he had no reaction.
“If I have a reaction or feeling toward something, I’ll express that with him,” he said.
Since summer 2020, Fuller said, players have had ongoing discussions about race in the locker room.
“It’s definitely something that guys still have,” Fuller said. “It might not be as broad as how that was when everything happened. But it’s something that you still see, conversations that guys still have. Just like everything in the locker room. I love NFL locker rooms because everybody’s so comfortable. We all know each other, we’re all comfortable with each other, everybody’s open to listening and hearing everybody.”