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Before Joe Burrow led his team to a Super Bowl or even played an NFL snaps in regular season, “the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback won the team over” during an emotional meeting about racial injustice back in the summer of 2020.
The Bengals held a meeting at the team’s headquarters around August, in the wake of George Floyd’s assassination of then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and the protests against racial injustice it had unleashed across the nation. As defensive tackle DJ Reader recalls, “a lot was going on at the time” around the country, and the players discussed weighty issues at the meeting.
Burrow decided to approach the team by telling a personal story about the racial injustice a black teammate experienced during their high school basketball days when they were growing up in Athens, Ohio. During a fight, Burrow said, people in the stands shouted racist slander at the friend. Burrow described that he felt shaken and upset during the match and how it felt afterwards as the two sat in the back of the team bus.
Burrow promised to fight such behavior for the rest of his life.
“He kind of broke down talking about it,” Reader said. “He’s a guy who stood there and he supported his friend as he should because you know it’s not okay. As a person, it meant a lot to hear how he stood up for him. [Racism] is not something he is not learning right now. “
Reader, who is Black, added that it was “good to hear from someone on the opposite side” talking about the fight during the meeting, highlighting Burrow’s inherent leadership. “He stands by what he says,” Reader said.
“He won the team quickly – every leader has that moment,” said a former Bengals employee who attended the meeting.
Burrow was unavailable for immediate comment, but his father, Jim Burrow, said the story his son told about his high school friend is accurate and that Joe told him about what happened the night after the fight. It was “disappointing for all of us” and “heartbreaking,” Jim said.
“I think it opened his eyes that something like this could happen,” Jim said of his son. “For us, these are just the normal core values we grew up with: Always show respect, treat people with respect, no matter who they are, what their background is, and be willing to help others when you can.”
Joe attracted leadership on every team he has joined, all the way back from youth sports, Jim said.
That process takes place on the professional level. Joe Burrow’s words to the team are effective, if not abundant, teammates say.
“When he does [speak]everyone listens, “said cornerback Mike Hilton.