College basketball coaches discuss racism, diversity
Frank Martin remembers the day 22 years ago when he was stopped by a police officer in the middle of nowhere, when he was driving across the country from his home in Miami to help coach a youth basketball camp.
“An officer walked up to my window and asked, ’What’s a guy from your neck of the woods doing up here, like real sarcastically,” the South Carolina coach recalled. “My proper name is Francisco, middle name Jose. He starts making fun of how to enunciate my name. And he said, ‘You’re one of those banana boat guys down there where you’re from,’ so right that moment I was kind of like, trying to figure out how to handle that moment. Common sense said, ‘Frank, defuse.’”
It wasn’t the first time Martin experienced racism. It wouldn’t be the last. But it left such an indelible impression on him that all these years later, it was among the first things that came to mind when he saw a video of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd as the black man pleaded for help with his final breaths.
And it’s why Martin, the son of Cuban political exiles and the first of his family born in the U.S., is joining dozens of other basketball coaches to discuss issues of race and discrimination amid the social unrest that has gripped the nation.
“He was trying to incite me the whole time,” Martin said during a panel discussion Friday with members of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. “Luckily for me I didn’t say anything to him, and he left and I left” — after not one but two tickets — “but in retrospect my biggest failure is that I never took action afterward.”
The NABC already has released a list of recommendations for college coaches. Among the suggestions are holding in-person or virtual meetings to discuss current events and racial injustice; establishing Election Day as an annual team day off and helping student-athletes register to vote; holding in-person and virtual meetings with local law enforcement and community leaders; and encouraging teams to be advocates on campus and society in general.
The discussion Friday came the same day Texas State ordered an investigation into a former player’s allegations of racist remarks by basketball coach Danny Kaspar — allegations athletic director Larry Teis called “deeply troubling.”
“I think we’re all basically going to be affected by this similarly,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “This has motivated me to hug my players. Hug my family. Take care of them, but also give them a platform. I gave all our kids a platform to share stories and their feelings, and I think that’s a positive that has come out of that.”
Sampson was born in Laurinburg, North Carolina, in 1955. It was an era in which discrimination was still rampant across the country, but especially in the South, and nearly a decade before President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the The Civil Rights Act of 1964. The things Sampson saw as a child came flooding back when he saw the video from Minneapolis.
“To me, he might as well have had a pillowcase over his head with his eyes dotted out and his nose dotted out,” Sampson said. “It just brought back memories of the Ku Klux Klan from the ’50s and ’60s.”
Sampson said the look on the face of Officer Derek Chauvin, who has since been charged with 2nd-degree murder, gave him the impression that “he was enjoying what he was doing. It almost brought you to tears.”
It did bring tears to the eyes of longtime basketball coach Ernie Kent, who remembered being stuck in the back of a police car as a 9-year-old and driven around the block so that a white woman could tell an officer whether he had stolen her purse.
Kent was heartened, though, when he spent Thursday night at a march in Oregon.
“Ninety-five percent of them were white and young,” said Kent, who played for Oregon and later coached 13 seasons in Eugene. “And they were carrying ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs, ‘Protect our Freedom,’ and all these things were coming out of them, and I just sat and watched for an hour from afar.”
Penn State coach Pat Chambers and Kentucky counterpart John Calipari both acknowledged as white men that they have a different perspective on the situation than minority coaches. That makes it even more important for them to ask questions and listen with an open heart and mind, Chambers said, “and I think we all need to do that as a society.”
Calipari said he plans to press administrators at Kentucky to begin a diversity fellowship program, not for coaching but for other areas within an athletic department: marketing, public relations, sales, training staff and other careers.
“I come from a poor background. Where I am now is based on African-American families trusting me with their child,” Calipari said. “Families of color trusting me with their child to dream their dreams, their hopes, their desires, and understand, and I feel it’s important to step up with whatever comes back to me and really think this though.
“Now one of the things I can tell you,” Calipari said, “is that police brutality and ideas of policing and the criminal justice system, I don’t think I have the ability to influence. I can donate to those funds, which I do. But my area of influence — my little corner of where I can do something — is my own players, keeping them safe. Having security talking to my team. It’s also about telling them they have a voice. Educate yourself. Know what you stand for and what you can do.”
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