INDIANAPOLIS — It’s been a transformational month for the Indianapolis Colts.
As Black Lives Matter protests have filled the streets around the globe and the evils of systemic racism and social injustice have again come to the forefront of the national conversation in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, players and coaches put football aside for the first week of June and focused on personal stories of discrimination and inequality.
Head coach Frank Reich was among those deeply affected by the stories he heard, and he vowed the organization would put actions behind its words and fight for equity and inclusion on all fronts.
On Thursday, the Colts officially announced their first steps toward those goals. In conjunction with a formal recognition and celebration of Juneteenth, the franchise is creating the Irsay Family Impact Scholarship for minority students and a new director of diversity, equity and inclusion position that will work across all departments.
“In addition to the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmuad Arbery and others, I have heard stunning testimonials from our players and staff about their personal experiences with racism,” Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay said in a team release. “In recent weeks, you’ve also heard passionate words from our general manager, head coach, players and me about racism and injustice — and their specific and often intentional impact on our black friends and neighbors — and these words will continue to be reflected in how we operate, communicate and engage.
“We realize these are difficult and uncomfortable topics to talk about, and they certainly go beyond football. But as an Indiana business, as a responsible corporate citizen — and as people who truly care about our fellow Hoosiers — we believe that black lives matter and that we must continue this dialogue and do what we can to inspire positive change.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced earlier this month the league will recognize June 19 as a holiday to celebrate the freedom of formerly enslaved people in the United States following the Civil War. Juneteenth commemorates the 1865 address by Union Gen. Gordon Granger freeing slaves in Texas two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation officially ended slavery in America.
The holiday has long been celebrated in Indiana and other states but has experienced renewed attention as the nation has grappled with racism and inequality since Floyd’s death under the knee of a white police officer was captured on video on Memorial Day.
The Colts have joined the NFL office in making Juneteenth a permanent company holiday.
“I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” rookie running back Jonathan Taylor said. “When you think about — they always say actions speak louder than words, so being able to take steps like you said, putting Juneteenth into effect, I think it’s definitely steps in the right direction of the entire bigger picture, and it shows that they’re actually moving toward creating that overall change or hoping to create that overall change.
“I definitely think that’s a big part. No step is too small, I feel like, when you’re creating a bigger change, and I think that this is definitely a great, smaller step.”
There are more to come.
According to the team release, the Irsay Family Impact Scholarship will cover the costs of a four-year education at Indiana University for each recipient. If a student chooses to attend a college other than IU, the value will be applied to the school of his or her choice. The Colts plan to announce more details about eligibility in the near future.
The new director of diversity, equity and inclusion will spearhead the teams internal and external efforts to promote diversity throughout all aspects of the franchise. That will include internal hiring practices, social responsibility and work with partners throughout the community.
It’s the start of a wide-ranging project Reich said will take forms both public and private as the team promotes sustainable change.
“The mission of the Colts is to entertain, unite and inspire by winning the right way,” Irsay said. “That means we take our work off the field in communities across our city and state just as seriously as what we do on the field.”