Ohio State’s Seth Towns speaks out after being detained during protest: ‘We have to be heard’

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

A little more than a day removed from having been detained by Columbus Police for his role in a peaceful protest, Ohio State basketball player Seth Towns had a message for a national television audience early Sunday morning.

He’s going to speak his truth, and he’s not going to stop.

“We have to be true to who we are and our voices,” Towns said on ESPN’s SportsCenter. “We have to use those voices to impact people, and there is a huge dilemma in this country right now that needs to be addressed and I won’t shut up. I won’t stop. I will continue to use my voice to speak out for the people who are unheard, and that’s what I did.

“A voice is so important, and when I say voice I’m not talking about speaking, per se. I’m talking about actions. I’m talking about going out and protesting and doing your duty as a member of this democracy.”

A Harvard graduate who transferred to Ohio State after excelling both athletically and academically at nearby Northland High School, Towns spent time in a police van Friday after being part of a downtown protest following the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis on Monday.

Harvard Crimson forward Seth Towns (31) passes in the first half against the Minnesota Gophers.

For the first time since the incident, Towns told his side of what took place.

“I was protesting like everyone else,” he said. “It was a peaceful protest in the street. They were telling us to back up. They just came up and about six cops put me in handcuffs and put me in the back of a paddy wagon. I don’t regret anything. We have to be heard, and this is a very serious issue and I won’t stop.”

Video of the encounter shows Towns shouting, “Say his name!” repeatedly. Once inside the back of the van, Towns said two things stuck out to him.

“One, the solidarity I felt, the pain I felt amongst all the other protestors,” he said. “There was no malice involved. They were just out there expressing their pain and demanding justice, which again, is their duty. The second thing, looking in the eyes of those police officers, each one standing on the front line. To many, it was just another day on the job and they felt no remorse. They felt no empathy, no sympathy for the people who are struggling out there, painfully protesting.

“And then the others who are also very scared. You could tell. You can look in their eyes and tell. There were many police officers who did not want to be there.”

After news of the Friday incident began to spread Saturday, multiple people around Towns took to social media to express support for his actions. Tommy Amaker, his coach at Harvard, released a statement to Twitter that said, in part, “I fully support, and am proud of, Seth in his continued fight for social justice, a cause that has been near and dear to his heart since he arrived on campus four years ago.”

New Ohio State guard Abel Porter, a transfer from Utah State, posted his support for his new teammate. Once Towns released his statement, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann released one of his own, saying “We fully support our players’ right to peacefully protest,” Holtmann said. “In the time I’ve gotten to know Seth, it’s clear that he has a heart for social justice.” Athletic director Gene Smith chimed in, too, tweeting, “Proud of you, Seth!”

Towns had posted a video and multiple messages to Twitter, pointing out that he had gone from graduating from Harvard to being in the back of a police van in the span of 24 hours – “both of which I am equally proud of,” he said.

Going forward, Towns said he plans to continue to use his status as an athlete to address issues like racial injustice but added that they can’t do it alone.

“I think athletes have a unique platform to speak up for what’s wrong and to speak as a voice of the people,” he said. “People look up to athletes for several reasons and with this platform you have a responsibility. I think all people in general have a responsibility because that is the duty you have. Athletes absolutely have a unique opportunity but everyone has a responsibility in this.”

Follow Adam Jardy on Twitter at @AdamJardy.