Staying silent was not an appealing thought for Terry Johnson, Quadrian Banks and Terence Dials.
About a week after the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in the custody of four white officers during an arrest on May 25 in Minneapolis, The Dispatch requested interviews with any members of the Ohio State men’s basketball program willing to engage in a conversation about race.
In short order, three black members of the OSU staff — Johnson, an assistant coach; Banks, the strength and conditioning coach; and Dials, the program’s director of professional development — expressed their desire to participate.
In a wide-ranging discussion, the entirety of which can he heard on the latest episode of the BuckeyeXtra Basketball Podcast, all three said the decision to speak out was simple.
"The bottom line is it’s the right thing to do," Johnson said. "We have been facing this situation for a long time in various ways, but after seeing what happened to George Floyd, and the platform that we have, it’s time to speak up and think about the young men that look up to us and are around our program all the time."
Johnson, 46, is entering his fourth season as an OSU assistant coach and his seventh working with coach Chris Holtmann. Banks, 39, also is entering his fourth season with the Buckeyes, and the 36-year-old Dials, an Ohio State alumnus who was the 2006 Big Ten player of the year, will be in his second year in his role.
As members of a Division I basketball program, each relishes the opportunity to affect change.
"We have a big platform here at Ohio State, and it’s our duty, especially as African American males, to speak out against injustice," Johnson said. "We have young men looking up to us, and those young men are going to be future leaders of our country."
In the current climate, Johnson said he hopes this ongoing movement doesn’t become a "one-hit wonder" situation in which eventually the outrage disappears and no change comes about. Banks said what change ultimately looks like needs to be guided by genuine empathy for all and a willingness to deal with issues.
"Change can look a lot of different ways, but I think (it is) just an awareness and an education and appreciation and empathy for the other side that may not think and look like you," he said.
"That’s where change begins with me. If somebody says something out of line, you can speak up and not just spectate. If more conversations like that take place, then that can start driving the vehicle of change."
Dials and his two teenage daughters attended two days of protests together in Columbus. Johnson said he has had conversations about race with his three young sons and that in addition to watching the Floyd video, they’ve started watching reruns of the sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," which aired from 1990-96.
The show’s humor has helped ease conversations about racism and financial inequality, he said.
As a program, the Buckeyes have held a video conference with alumnus Clark Kellogg, who encouraged them to read "The Road to Character," a 2015 book written by David Brooks. Dials said he has spent time during the pandemic educating himself on politics to better understand what steps are necessary to bring about real change.
That could start, Dials said, with addressing issues with the use of force by police. He spoke of a need for greater diversity within police departments, as well as easing a negative stigma within the black community about considering careers in law enforcement.
"You need more people of color policing the neighborhoods of people like they grew up," he said. "I think they need to have a safe space for the good cops to report some of the bad cops. The problem that black America and everyone else who has a problem with police brutality is when these police officers kill people, they’re not getting the same punishment that a regular person would get if they killed someone."
The need for greater black representation isn’t just confined to the police, though.
"There’s a lot of well-educated people that should be in a higher position that are not," Johnson said. "We don’t start with that chance right from the beginning. We’re always scratching and clawing to get there."