Minnesota Timberwolves, Lynx Respond To Community Post-George Floyd

The Minnesota Timberwolves initially resisted calls to join the response to the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department in 2020, but Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Tru Pettigrew had a change of heart. Pettigrew realized that he and the organization had a unique opportunity to affect change in Minneapolis, and he took it. A robust effort to assist the Minneapolis community sprang from that opportunity, culminating in several social justice awards for the team and individual players. 

According to The Athletic, Pettigrew realized the players already had a negative relationship with the city’s officers, which got worse in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder. Originally, Pettigrew was tasked with repairing that rift when Gersson Rosas, the then-president of Basketball Operations for the Timberwolves, brought him on. 

“That relationship was strained,” Pettigrew said.

“It was already a very fragile relationship with law enforcement and the Black community, to begin with. Now, you add this, and the players were like, ‘Yo, we’re not feeling MPD.’ That was really my initial assignment.”

Pettigrew was able to get some of Floyd’s family members, two of his brothers, Philonise and Rodney, and a cousin, Brandon Williams, to come to a game the Wolves played against the Houston Rockets in Houston, where many of Floyd’s family members reside.

“I told them, I don’t know what I can do, but whatever I can do, let me know. We can commit to you as an organization; you will never have to pay for a game (in Minneapolis) because I knew basketball could serve as a welcome distraction for them…I knew they were going through so much trauma, as a family.” Pettigrew recalled.

“That brotherhood just grew and grew. Over the years, they said, once the cameras went away and the lights turned down, they said, ‘Y’all were the only organization that still rock with us. Everybody else was just doing it for the photo ops.’”

Although the Timberwolves’ playoff run has come to a close, as has Pettigrew’s tenure with the team, some players, like Karl-Anthony Towns, who championed the organization’s “Pack The Vote” initiative in 2020, seem positioned to continue the work in the Minneapolis community. Towns is the most recent winner of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award, created in 2021 to honor the work of its namesake on social causes. Towns, according to a press release from the University of Kentucky, has been active in several social initiatives in the Minneapolis community, including donating to the Mayo Clinic, a sponsor of Minnesota’s WNBA franchise, the Minnesota Lynx.

Pettigrew also was involved with The Lynx during his tenure with the Wolves organization. The Lynx have long been active in social justice themselves. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, in 2016, then-Lynx players Rebekah Brunson, Simone Augustus, Maya Moore, and Lindsay Whalen responded to the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by wearing T-shirts that read “Change starts with us” and “Justice & accountability” across the front and “Black Lives Matter” on the back along with Castile and Sterling’s names. 

Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve told the outlet in 2020, “The No. 1 thing we were trying to convey was that we couldn’t sit idly by and watch murders at the hands of the police against Black and brown communities. Change was the No. 1 thing we were after. So it was, ‘Change starts with us.’”

Reeve continued, “It was also being bold saying Black Lives Matter. Fast-forward to George Floyd and how comfortable the vast majority of people are using the phrase Black Lives Matter; how fast it had become acceptable. Not everyone, of course. But it’s significantly different than it was in 2016, certainly in our organization. Now is the time for action. What you’re seeing is action, the collective will of not only the women of the WNBA, but the men of the NBA.”

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