Riot Executive Resigns After Sharing Meme Praising George Floyd’s Death

A Riot Games executive has resigned following an internal investigation into a post he made on Facebook, which blamed the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department on his “criminal lifestyle,” and included a factually inaccurate meme implying that Floyd should have been killed years ago for the good of public safety.

Floyd’s death (which I can’t legally call a murder until a conviction comes in because of libel laws, despite personally believing that Floyd was murdered) occurred on Memorial Day when white MPD training officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for approximately nine minutes. Chauvin has been charged with second degree murder following uproarious nationwide protests, while three other officers who were present and did nothing to help Floyd have been charged with aiding and abetting a second degree murder.

Ron Johnson, who until last night was Riot’s global head of consumer products, said the following on Facebook, according to a screenshot obtained by Vice: “This [Floyd’s criminal record] is no reason to condone his killing by the officer at all, which still needs to be investigated as a potential crime. It is a learning opportunity for people (and your kids) to teach that this type of criminal lifestyle never results in good things happening to you or those around you.”

His statement was accompanied by a photo of Floyd, with all-caps Impact font imposed on it, reading “THE MEDIA AND THE LEFT HAVE MADE GEORGE FLOYD INTO A MARTYR, BUT WHO WAS HE REALLY?” After listing an erroneous bill of crimes, including the alleged robbery of a pregnant woman, the image then states that “WHEN HE WAS KILLED, HE WAS HIGH ON METH GETTING READY TO DRIVE A CAR AND POSSIBLY KILL YOUR KID. TOO BAD THE PREGNANT WOMAN DIDN’T HAVE A GUN.” (These statements are addressed in further detail at the end of this post.)

“The sentiment expressed in the image in question is abhorrent and runs directly counter to our values and our belief that addressing systemic racism requires immediate societal change, something that we’re committed to working toward,” a Riot representative told Kotaku in a statement. Since Floyd’s death, Riot has pledged $11 million to vaguely defined “justice reform, long-term solutions to address racial bias, and support for local Black-owned businesses,” as well as investments in “founders underrepresented in the games industry.”

Meanwhile, in an internal memo from Riot Games CEO Nicolo Laurent announcing Johnson’s departure, Laurent said of Johnson’s post that “we must respect that everyone is entitled to their own political views,” per a copy of the memo obtained by ESPN. “However, I have to be honest with you. I believe Ron exercised really poor judgment here. It resulted in a post that was harmful to many of us and our broader community. It was insensitive and in this moment, it undermines the commitment we’ve made to stand against all acts of injustice, racism, prejudice, and hate.”

(One might argue that justifying the extra-judicial murder of a Black man by four white police officers is not a “political opinion” to which one can be entitled, and it’s me, I’m arguing that. Get your shit together Laurent.)

Riot’s “commitment … against all acts of injustice, racism, prejudice, and hate” is primarily the result of a $10 million settlement the company agreed to following a discrimination lawsuit brought against it last year, which the State of California has since taken over and is looking to expand to as much as $400 million is damages. The lawsuit alleged that Riot had/has pervasive issues with sexism, racism and other volatile workplace conditions resulting from the top-down influence of bigoted people atop the company’s power structure. Weird how Riot might be really on top of handling that sort of thing now that the government is involved and it’s on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars!

I’m going to address how the statements in Johnson’s shared meme are inaccurate, but I want to make something perfectly clear first: Even if everything on the meme were true — which it isn’t — Floyd’s death would still have been the direct result of racist police violence perpetrated by the Minneapolis Police Department, emboldened by hundreds of years of systemic oppression and a deeply entrenched, untouchable Police State that spans the nation and continues to kill unarmed Black people with impunity. (Arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor.) Even if Floyd had been a convicted repeat sex offender with a portrait of Adolf Hitler tattooed on his back and a sign that said “I’m going to do a murder right after this,” so long as he was a white Hitler-loving sex murderer, he’d still be alive right now.

Anyway, the meme’s allegations touch on reality but are purposefully misleading: “In brief, the alleged crimes and time periods are mostly accurate, with the caveat that Floyd was convicted of theft in 1998, not armed robbery,” per Snopes‘ analysis of the meme. “But the following information makes other aspects of the post misleading: Not all the crimes resulted in prison time, but rather jail sentences; no evidence suggests a woman involved in the 2007 charge was pregnant; it’s an exaggeration of toxicology results to claim Floyd ‘was high on meth’ when he was choked by a cop, and there’s no proof that Floyd was ‘getting ready to drive a car’ before his fatal encounter with police other than the fact that officers say they approached him as he sat in the driver’s seat of a vehicle.”

As a final note, it is my duty as a journalist to inform you that Riot Games is owned by TenCent Holdings, which is the same company that owns the company that owns Fanbyte Media. And just like every other time I have to write one of these disclaimers, allow me to mention that I’m not even a full employee of Fanbyte, but rather an Independent Contractor, thus providing an additional layer of reassurance against any appearance of impropriety. Once you get higher up in the ranks than Head of Fanbyte Media John Warren, I couldn’t begin to tell you the names of anyone in charge of this place, or who’s in charge of the people in charge of this place, or what they think about the phrase “bongo dingus,” which I can write whenever I want on this website because, quite honestly, I’m not sure that TenCent even remembers that it owns Fanbyte.