As protests against racial injustice continue to flourish around the country, Big Ten men’s basketball coaches have expressed a variety of messages via social media.
Most coaches preached a similar message of tolerance and acceptance. Michigan’s Juwan Howard, the lone African-American coach in the 14-team league, asked for peaceful protesting. Some, like Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann and Maryland’s Mark Turgeon, quoted African-American activists. Others, including Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Iowa’s Fran McCaffery and Wisconsin’s Greg Gard, mentioned the need for action but did not advocate for any specific moves.
Ten coaches released statements, two expressed their thoughts in single tweets and one, Penn State’s Patrick Chambers, has tweeted multiple times on the topic but not released a personal statement. Indiana coach Archie Miller participated in a video posted to his team’s Twitter account that was released Tuesday.
No coach specifically mentioned personally participating in protests or the topic of police brutality.
Although Northwestern coach Chris Collins was the first to acknowledge the growing racial tensions on his Twitter page, Holtmann was the first to express his thoughts publicly. Friday, four days after the death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, Collins retweeted a post from the athletic department’s page featuring a video of CNN reporter Omar Jimenez, a university alumnus who had been arrested while covering the protests in Minneapolis.
Roughly an hour later, Holtmann posted a statement to his Twitter account accompanied by a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that read, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
In his statement, Holtmann said he continues to be “shocked and saddened by the senseless violence to unarmed and defenseless black men.” He pledged to continue to have “healthy conversations about race” within the locker room, expressed his gratitude to both university and local law enforcement members who have been “open and available with our team.”
He concluded, “Will there be a day when these conversations are unnecessary? God, I hope so.” It wasn’t his only presence on Twitter that day: he also retweeted Ohio State football coach Ryan Day on the topic.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Martin Luther King Jr. pic.twitter.com/xu0lPBVM1t— Chris Holtmann (@ChrisHoltmann) May 29, 2020
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino was the only other Big Ten coach to have a social media presence that day, making a statement and retweeting a video showing the overwhelming response to a low-income housing center’s request for food donations.
“This week has been so hard,” he said that evening. “My thoughts and prayers go out to the Floyd family. Absolutely sickening.”
Minnesota is special. I can’t put my finger on it but it just is. It’s home. This week has been so hard. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Floyd family. Absolutely sickening. Let’s pull together MINNESOTA and show just how special we truly are. #RIPGeorgeFloyd— Richard Pitino (@CoachPitinoMN) May 30, 2020
As the protests picked up in intensity entering the weekend, Illinois’ Brad Underwood retweeted a Nike video that had been retweeted by his school’s athletic department at 10:52 a.m.
Purdue coach Matt Painter was next to weigh in, posting a lengthy statement at 2:20 that required two screen shots to fully display. It said, in part, that he believes it’s part of his job to prepare his players to be positive forces once they leave Purdue and that “events of the past few days and weeks have again shown us that we have a lot of work to do when it comes to race and racism in this country.
“I will never know what it is like to move through this world as a black person in America, and I can’t pretend to know what the answers are,” he wrote. “What I do know is that I want to be part of the solution, and I believe that the adversity and prejudice that black people in America face is something we all must address and seek to remedy – together.”
pic.twitter.com/212TXZTF8Q— Purdue’s Matt Painter (@CoachPainter) May 30, 2020
Shortly thereafter, Izzo – the only Big Ten coach without a personal Twitter page – had a statement published to the men’s basketball team’s official page. In it, Izzo was the first Big Ten coach to advocate for actions and not just words, although no specifics are addressed, and said the one thing for certain is that he can’t stay silent.
“Speaking out is important, but the change we desire can’t just come from words – it comes from action,” Izzo said. “We have to call out injustice when we see it. We need to respect and support one another.
“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 statement from Coach Izzo: pic.twitter.com/DOOI60yK4Q— Michigan State Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) May 30, 2020
Penn State’s Patrick Chambers later that day retweeted a lengthy statement from his university’s football coach, James Franklin, saying, “Coach, we stand behind you & your words. #WeAre”
The Buckeyes entered the national consciousness with the news that one of their players, Seth Towns, had been detained by Columbus police while participating in a Friday protest. Saturday, Holtmann waited for Towns to release a video with his own thoughts, then retweeted the video and released another statement through the program’s Twitter page. He also retweeted athletic director Gene Smith’s statement iun support of Towns.
pic.twitter.com/gVvhMcdi4G— Seth (@seth_towns17) May 30, 2020
Nebraska’s Fred Hoiberg, who played professionally for the Minnesota Timberwolves, posted his statement at 6:42 p.m. Saturday, stating that Minneapolis holds a special place in his heart and that he plans to have a team meeting on the topic when the players return to campus.
“We all have a role in this and for me I plan on doing whatever I possibly can to protect and support my players through these tragic and sad times,” he wrote. “I pray for George Floyd, his family, and all the innocent lives that have been taken away by senseless acts.”
pic.twitter.com/s7HpBd9ZyT— Fred Hoiberg (@CoachHoiberg) May 30, 2020
Collins followed with a tweet, staying that “We ALL need to understand that things MUST CHANGE, and we ALL need to be a part of the solution!”
It saddens me to see the Hate and Injustices that still exist in our country! We ALL must do better! We ALL have the responsibility to Fight for Equality and Justice! We ALL need to understand that things MUST CHANGE, and we ALL need to be a part of the solution!— Chris Collins (@coach_collins) May 30, 2020
Underwood was the next coach to release a statement, describing the events of the past few days as “heartbreaking” while vowing to do his part to talk with his team about how to impact change.
“I became a coach to help young people,” he wrote. “And it is my responsibility as a leader to the many young black men in our program that I provide a safe environment where they can be heard and supported while processing emotions stirred from the harsh reality of the unfair world we all live in.”
pic.twitter.com/oTd0cEVHM1— Brad Underwood (@CoachUnderwood) June 1, 2020
Turgeon and Howard both released statements on Sunday. First, Turgeon quoted South African archbishop Desmond Tutu and said his team will read “Why We Can’t Wait” by Martin Luther King Jr. and discuss each chapter “to better understand systematic racism and what we can do to fix it.”
We must stand together and unite now more than ever. pic.twitter.com/H4yPzeQ1Kv— Mark Turgeon (@CoachTurgeon) June 1, 2020
Turgeon also encouraged support for all impacted communities including law enforcement members who “do serve their communities with honor and respect.” Howard then posted a statement turned into a maize-and-blue graphic that asked for peaceful protests.
“Looting, vandalism and destruction only creates more pain,” he wrote. “It hurts the cause instead of letting it blossom. As a black community, we must rise up & let our voices be hard. However, we must do so peacefully.”
On a personal level, Howard wrote, “Witnessing murders of unarmed black men has been gut wrenching. Knowing my very own sons are at risk, is a fear Jenine and I live with every day.”
pic.twitter.com/e9YuyBQOqO— Juwan Howard (@JuwanHoward) June 1, 2020
McCaffery posted a statement to the program’s Twitter page Sunday stating that he is “particularly angered for my student-athletes of color. We live in a country where everyday life poses a risk to them. … Positive change only takes place through action.”
In a Monday letter posted to Wisconsin’s basketball Twitter page, Gard said that change is “paramount to an improving future” and cited the need for education and awareness.
“As humans, we all need to be dedicated to impacting change in our own communities,” Gard wrote. “We need to be dedicated to fixing our morale (sic) compasses and living and leading with empathy, respect, love and understanding for all cultures.”
pic.twitter.com/x5xIdvHhLZ— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) June 1, 2020
Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell has not released a statement but did take part in the latest “Inside Rutgers Athletics podcast” to talk about “current events” that was published Wednesday morning.
Similarly, Miller participated in a video featuring his players that was posted Tuesday.
— Indiana Basketball (@IndianaMBB) June 2, 2020
Racism, in no way, shape or form, can be tolerated. pic.twitter.com/YZWUJ4MoFN