After a few days of deliberation, Riot Games has fired Ron Johnson, the company’s global head of consumer products, over racially insensitive remarks regarding George Floyd.
The League of Legends developers announced the news in a press release, shared by esports insider Rod “Slasher” Breslau on Twitter. In the statement, Riot calls Johnson’s remarks “abhorent,” claiming the words “directly counter” the company’s values and beliefs.
“As we shared last week, Riot is taking thoughtful and deliberate action to help combat racism and injustice in the communities where we work and live,” the press release continues.
Riot then states they have committed $1 million to justice reform and addressing racial bias, as well as supporting local black-owned busineses. They also invested $10 million to “change the face” of the gaming industry by creating a “future pipeline of underrepresented talent” within the gaming and tech world.
According to Slasher, the news was first reported by journalist Seth Schiesel. He had wrote an exclusive story for Protocol outlining how Verizon would only make a deal with Riot if they “dealth with” Johnson’s George Floyd post.
In his article, Schiesel explains that Verizon and Riot were going to announce the partnership Thursday morning, but when Verizon heard of Johnson’s post, they postponed the reveal. Verizon apparently made it clear that they were not moving forward until the Johnson matter was resolved. Late Thursday night, a Riot spokesperson told Schiesel that Johnson had been fired.
— Seth Schiesel (@SethSchiesel) June 12, 2020
What sparked all of this was a Facebook post by Johnson in which he shared a photo of George Floyd’s criminal history, questioning the alleged martyring of George Floyd. This has become an argument used by some people to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement, although cries to “defund the police” is typically about more than the Floyd incident alone. That was just the tipping point for many people in the United States and abroad, who feel this was just the latest example of cops using excessive force against minorities.
While Johnson captioned the “meme” with the sentiment that he didn’t condone Floyd being killed by police officers, he also used the post as an opportunity to attack the victim’s character.
“[This situation] 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,” Johnson wrote.
“When he was killed, he was high on meth getting ready to drive a car and possibly kill your kid,” read the photo that accompanied Johnson’s post.
While Riot was quick to act on this situation, it’s most likely due to them wanting to secure the deal with Verizon. When the game developers were revealed to have a toxic workplace, including high-ranking employees who sexually harassed and demeaned female workers, Riot was slow to come forward with a statement or to take action.
As more women came forward with stories of harassment and sexism, including some of them being denied promotions, Riot didn’t fire any of the employees that took part in this sexist behavior. Instead, they were given sensitivity training.
In the end, Riot settled a discrimination lawsuit, paying $10 million to female employees who were paid less than their male counterparts throughout the years.