Sometimes, the outside world pops the bubble in which football teams try to immerse themselves.
That was the case last week for Ohio State as they wrapped up training camp. Even while they plowed through the grind of practice and were holed up in their hotel, the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia, was impossible to ignore.
“Sure, we’ve had a couple conversations with what happened in Virginia,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said Monday. “It was everywhere. You know, we were kind of buried in training camp. But I went to each room. We talked about things.”
With such programs as Real Life Wednesdays, Meyer has made sure that his players understand that there is life apart from and beyond football. He hopes the lessons from those apply to what happened Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, where protesters clashed with white nationalists who had gathered to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. Three people died, including a woman who was killed when a car crashed into demonstrators.
“There were some tough things going on right here,” Meyer said, “and we’ve kind of taken the approach … that you can't really control what’s going on out there, but you can be a shining light and kind of a role model for the way you handle your business. Not only for your family, but Ohio State people (that) watch you.”
Defensive end Jalyn Holmes took that advice to heart.
“With everything going on in the world, what you can do is control what you can,” said Holmes, who is from Norfolk, Virginia, about 2½ hours southeast of Charlottesville. “Me being a good citizen to everybody, no matter the color, that’s me controlling what I can. With all the madness going on, we have to try to be better people every day, no matter what color you are.”
That doesn’t mean he shies away from voicing his opinion. Holmes is one of several players who have been candid on social media regarding his views on racism and President Donald Trump’s response to the events in Charlottesville.
“I’m going to share my two cents,” Holmes said. “We have political debates all the time. At the end of the day, we’re teammates. Somebody can like Trump and somebody can not like Trump.
Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
“But at the end of the day, I have to respect your opinion, and you have to respect mine. You’re my brother. That’s how the world has to try to become — learn to respect each other’s values and be able to move on from it and still shake your hand.”
He said his teammates engaged in heated debates before last year’s presidential election.
“We used to argue bad about it,” Holmes said. “But we could have a full-blown argument and then tell a joke right after it.”
Defensive line coach Larry Johnson grew up in North Carolina during the Civil Rights movement. He played for Herman Boone, the coach portrayed in the movie, “Remember the Titans.”
Johnson said he was disheartened by the events of last week.
“I thought we’d never be at this stage in this country and here we are, back to it again,” he said.
Johnson said the country would benefit from the lessons football teaches.
“I tell people all the time, the best place to watch the country run is to watch a football locker room and see the love and affection of all colors and all races,” he said.
Johnson said that he often discusses non-football issues in his meeting room.
“It’s daily,” he said. “It’s ongoing. Every day they get nuggets from coach Meyer. They get nuggets from me. It’s about life. It’s not about football. We’ll spend 20 minutes before we talk football just talking about what’s going on in today’s world — how to be a young man, how to grow.”
His ultimate goal isn’t to mold a player into a first-round draft pick but for his life after football.
“When football is over, can you be a great father, be a great husband?” Johnson said. “To me, those are paramount of building young men.
“To grow not just a football player but to grow a young man from the inside out, that’s what makes college football so unique — the relationship you have between coach and player because you can talk about more than football.”
Listen to the BuckeyeXtra podcast: