The coaches of the Oklahoma Sooners and their peers across college football experienced an outbreak of social consciousness in the last week amid protests and demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality around the United States. Such gestures have become a requirement of their jobs given an overwhelming number of white men are paid handsomely to coach predominately Black athletes on their rosters.
"All lives can't matter until black lives do, too."— Danielle Dwyer (@DanielleDwyerTV) June 3, 2020
"That was my inner belief...that's not something that's done because I coach a football team that has a lot of young, black males on it."
Here's #Sooners HC Lincoln Riley on #blacklivesmatter pic.twitter.com/YOdeHfYawW
Are coaches being genuine? You’d hope that their concern transcends keeping the peace in their locker rooms or nipping ugly talk on the recruiting trail in the bud. But I’ll leave it to someone else to decide who’s sincere and who isn’t.
Check out your favorite team’s message board or Twitter hive, though. You’ll likely find decidedly less unified opinions of what Black Lives Matter means, and a fair number of them won’t be complimentary. There will be plenty of #sticktosports hurled at coaches and players alike from the last few days. Complaints are stacking up everywhere over the alma mater “caving to PC mobs.”
In an interview this week, Texas Longhorns coach Tom Herman astutely described the differences in how his players view the world and what most fans see. In the process, he hinted at the line those in his profession walk between supporting the young men who make them money and the people who actually fund their salaries.
“Can the average fan relate? No, they can’t,” Herman said. “There’s a double standard maybe a little bit. We’re going to pack 100,000 people into DKR and millions watch on TV that are predominantly white — not all of them certainly, but most of ’em white. We’re gonna cheer when they score touchdowns, and we’re gonna hug our buddy when they get sacks or an interception.
“But we gonna let them date our daughter? Are we going to hire them in a position of power in our company? That’s the question I have for America. You can’t have it both ways.
“And if you’re going to cheer them and love them for three-and-a-half hours a Saturday in the fall, you better have the same feelings for them off the field, because they’re human beings. They deserve the same amount of respect and human rights that all of us do in this country when we agreed on the social contract to be a member of the United States.”
Those kinds of comments will endear Herman to his players. You can also imagine how they might antagonize some Bevo devotees, including some of burnt orange’s big bucks. The same would be true for Lincoln Riley. Or Nick Saban. Or Ed Orgeron.
But this is reality now in college football. Coaches know how badly they need talent to win. Opposing your players on the social issues that are important to them won’t help you there. In fact, as Florida State Seminoles star Marvin Wilson made clear to new FSU head coach Mike Norvell, players want more than just token nods to their causes.
Man this did not happen mane. We got a generated text that was sent to everybody. There was no one on one talk between us and coach. This is a lie and me and my teammates as a whole are outraged and we will not be working out until further notice #hunchoout https://t.co/6Uuy6K7Eu3— HEAD HUNCHO (@marvinwilson21) June 4, 2020
On the flip side, a coach marching in political lockstep with a fan base won’t keep him from getting canned if he’s taking Ls every week. So if players and coaches speaking out or protesting irks you as a fan, you better figure out how to deal with it.
Of course, a vast gulf lies between toleration and agreement. Unfortunately for the players, they don’t have the power to make the people who cheer for them on game days care about their plight the rest of the year. There are no magic words that well-intentioned coaches can say to change how fans feel.
All they can do is keep talking. It’s on the rest of us to actually listen.