As the country continues to face the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, North Carolina Central men’s basketball head coach LeVelle Moton said the silence of white Power 5 basketball and football coaches is alarming.
On ESPN Radio nearly a week after Floyd died in police custody on Memorial Day in Minneapolis, Moton said white Power 5 coaches in both sports tend to care about African Americans when they’re on their teams but don’t offer the same concern when African Americans die at the hands of law enforcement officers.
“The reality is a lot of these coaches have been able to create generational wealth,” Moton said Sunday on ESPN Radio’s Sunday Morning. “Their grandkids’ kids are gonna be able to live a prosperous life because athletes who were the complexion of George Floyd were able to run a football, throw a football, shoot a basketball or whatever have you, so they have been able to benefit from athletes that look like George Floyd and many more. But whenever people [who are] the complexion of George Floyd are killed, assassinated, murdered in the street in broad daylight, they’re silent.”
Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo released a statement Saturday reflecting on recent events, saying, “I can’t stay silent.”
“We must stand together for human rights and against racism,” Izzo wrote. “As a white American basketball coach who has been trusted and accepted into African American homes across our country, the racism and injustice I’ve witnessed has sickened my soul.”
A number of white football coaches, including Alabama’s Nick Saban, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, issued statements Sunday.
Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes per the viral video that captured the incident, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on Friday. Chauvin and three other officers who were involved in the incident, including two who helped Chauvin hold Floyd down, were fired.
Protests have erupted throughout the country, beginning in Minneapolis, where Floyd died, and spreading throughout major cities. Ohio State men’s basketball grad transfer Seth Towns, who graduated from Harvard on Thursday, was detained by police on Friday at a protest in Columbus, Ohio. Both Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann and athletic director Gene Smith tweeted their support.
Moton said the collective coaching fraternity has not done enough to express support in the wake of Floyd’s death or similar incidents in the past. He said he hasn’t slept well since Floyd’s death, which has triggered his anxiety disorder, because it reminded him of a similar situation he discussed on Twitter.
In 2005, Moton said he was held at gunpoint by police in Raleigh, North Carolina, with former North Carolina men’s basketball star Raymond Felton months after Felton helped the Tar Heels win a national title. Moton said he felt a kinship with Floyd, who called for his mother in the final moments of his life, because Moton’s mother was on speakerphone, overheard her son’s encounter with police and thought he would be killed.
That’s why he replays scenarios in practice to keep his players safe if they face similar situations. He puts out four chairs, mimicking a car with two in front and two in back, and goes through the reenactment of a player being pulled over by a police officer. He said he teaches his players to do what they can to deescalate the situation and “get home.”
That’s why, Moton said, it’s important for America’s top college coaches to take a stand in a moment such as this.
“I have a problem with [their silence] because it seems as if black lives matter to them whenever they can benefit from it or whenever they’re getting them first downs, catching an alley-oop or shooting a [3-pointer] or whatever,” Moton said. “When it’s time for humanity to speak up on behalf of the student-athlete, it’s silent. It’s crickets. And my problem is if the murdering of black Americans is too risky of an issue for you to stand up as a leader, then who are they really playing for?”
In Saban’s statement, the Crimson Tide coach said he was “shocked and angered” by recent events, and he encouraged unity.
“We are all part of this and we must banish these types of injustices in not just our country, but our world,” Saban wrote. “The ultimate future of our nation is in our hands, and like the teams I’ve been privileged to coach, we must depend on and respect each other no matter our differences. We must come together as a society and treat one another with respect and dignity.”
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