Larry Fitzgerald focused on helping parlay protests over racial injustice into action

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Cardinals Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who grew up in Minneapolis and took part in protests there after the death of George Floyd, said Friday that the next step in combating racism and social injustice is action.

"That's really what's going to effect change," Fitzgerald said on a teleconference call with reporters Friday.

Fitzgerald traveled from Arizona, where he was when Floyd was killed on Memorial Day while in police custody in the same Minneapolis neighborhood where Fitzgerald grew up, to his hometown so he could get a firsthand look at what was happening there.

"I'm trying to put out fires here in Minneapolis right now," Fitzgerald said. "I'll definitely make sure that my presence is felt, and I really want people to believe it's important now to not just do a lot of talking, right? I've said what I've felt. I said what I believe to be right in my heart, and now it's just about the action. It's about serving the community, closing the divide, and that's really what my focus is right now, is trying to do that here, try to do that in Arizona and be a positive influence."

Fitzgerald shared his thoughts on the death of Floyd and the widespread systemic racism throughout the country in a New York Times essay Sunday. He said he didn't want to comment publicly until he had a firm grasp on the situation himself and said he participated in protests in south Minneapolis with his 12-year-old son, Devin.

"I wanted to not only get accurate information but also gauge what my true feelings and emotions would be like," Fitzgerald said. "Where he was killed is less than a mile from where I spent the vast majority of my childhood, and I wanted to really, kind of, emotionally engage in what was transpiring, and I felt like if I gave a quote or went on TV and answered questions, it would be possible to facilitate an article that somebody else was penning right and give a quote for this and that.

"And I really felt like it was best for me to just sit down for two weeks and take notes from every single interaction that I had with somebody -- white, black, police officer, just had a lot of conversations with a lot of different people. And I wanted to get their feelings and not only their feelings but the emotions that they were feeling because a lot of the people here were outraged and a lot of people were optimistic that this would bring about change."

Fitzgerald said he has talked with politicians, including state legislators, community activists and leaders, around Minneapolis and St. Paul.

"I've been here a very long time," Fitzgerald said. "And my dad has been a pillar in this community for a long time, so I've talked to a lot of people."

Fitzgerald said he hasn't been following the protests in the Phoenix area much but said he had talked to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich in the last couple of weeks.

Fitzgerald said he typically tries to stay out of politics and explained that he isn't swayed by fellow athletes or entertainers. He said he prefers to listen to what politicians say and see what they do "because their words are the ones that are most important in terms of the changes that are going to happen."

"I take a little bit different stance, and this is just me speaking, this is not all athletes or anybody in particular: I really don't care what somebody who can catch a football or dunk a basketball says, to be honest with you," Fitzgerald said. "I just don't. I'm not influenced by some singer or rapper or ... I'm just not influenced by that."

Fitzgerald said he doesn't know whether he'll kneel during the national anthem before games this coming season, adding that that decision doesn't need to be made until August, when preseason games start.

"And I think there'll be players that will kneel, there'll be players that will stand and we'll deal with it accordingly when the time comes," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said his oldest son suggested going to the protests at one point during their stay in Minnesota. Fitzgerald said he doesn't "sugarcoat or downplay anything" when having conversations with his son.

"I just tell him exactly what I see, how I perceive it, and I let him kind of digest the way he wants to," Fitzgerald said. "I think the better he's equipped at a young age to be able to see things for the way they are, but also to understand that things can be different and need to be different, will help him in the conversations that he has with his friends."

Fitzgerald was moved when his son asked if they could go to the protests.

"I was really proud of him and his views," Fitzgerald said. "It was great to see a young person, 12 years old, who hasn't experienced anything like that, being that socially aware.

"It gave me a lot of hope, and as a father it makes you proud to see that you're helping ... raise a young man that is socially conscious, and that really made me feel good."