CHARLOTTE, NC - FEBRUARY 16: Tony Dungy speaks at the All Star Breakfast held by the National Basketball Retired Players Association at the Renaissance Charlotte Suites Hotel on February 16, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

John McCoy/Getty Images

Former NFL coach Tony Dungy believes athletes have a significant part to play in furthering social justice.

“When we have situations like this, athletes have a big role,” the 64-year-old Hall of Famer said Wednesday on the FAN Morning Show. “They have a big voice, and we can step up and be part of the solution. We can be empathetic. Yes, I absolutely do think they have that responsibility.”

Players across the sports world have made their voices heard over the past week during ongoing protests against police brutality and racial injustice. 

The NFL has seen several key players make statements following the May 25 killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, including Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady. Deshaun Watson was among those in attendance at a protest in Houston.

Dungy noted he learned as a player beginning his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1977 that he had responsibilities off the field.

“We want you to be part of the community,” owner Art Rooney Sr. told him as a rookie. “We want you to make Pittsburgh a better place to live.”

The NFL has not always welcomed athletes’ use of their platform, especially Colin Kaepernick. The former quarterback was ostracized after taking a knee during the national anthem as a protest of the same police brutality and racial inequality that is dominating the country’s collective consciousness.

Dungy told Fox News in 2018 he would stand because that is “the way to go” and “the best way [to protest] is not three minutes before the national anthem.”

He also said in 2017 Kaepernick was only out of the league because of his actions.

“Without that national anthem [protest], someone would have signed him by now,” the coach told Bob Glauber of Newsday.

Dungy, who was the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl, in February 2007, still wants players to use their voice to lead their communities.

Derek Chauvin was fired, along with three other officers, after video emerged that showed him kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. A facedown Floyd repeatedly stated he couldn’t breathe while the officer pinned him. Chauvin was charged with second-degree manslaughter and felony third-degree murder.

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