Wednesday, November 25, 2020

'Our players want action, not just statements and words': MSU football talks social injustice

October 1, 2020
<p>Head football coach Mel Tucker prepares his team for the newly reinstated 2020 season at practice Sept. 21. Photo Courtesy of Michigan State Athletic Communications. </p>

Head football coach Mel Tucker prepares his team for the newly reinstated 2020 season at practice Sept. 21. Photo Courtesy of Michigan State Athletic Communications.

Athletes from all different sports have used their platforms in a major way this year to combat social injustice and systemic racism, a problem that has plagued our country for way too long.

The NBA and NHL postponed several games of their 2020 playoffs due to a wildcat strike following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin back in August. Several MLB teams followed suit in not playing, while various NFL teams cancelled practice for the day. Instead of playing/practicing, players used their voice to raise awareness and ask the question many of us at home were asking: 'When will it stop?'

Conversations regarding social justice have also been constant for Michigan State football, with head coach Mel Tucker leading the charge and giving his players the opportunity to voice their feelings on the situation during a time where sports don't seem so important.

“Communication (and) educational resources are what we’ve talked about all summer,” Tucker said. “We really worked hard to connect with our players, to support our players. We’ve had several meetings with all of our players so guys could express how they feel about things.”

Coaches and players have both stepped up and initiated conversation throughout the summer and into the fall, and Tucker believes that has gone a long way for his team. He has brought in speakers to talk to the players on all sorts of topics to help "empower and educate," as Tucker puts it, while urging them to use their platform.

“Some of the initiatives that we’ve implemented, in terms of the education and the resources that we have provided, because our players want action, not just statements and words,” Tucker said. “And so there’s been quite a bit of programming ... guest speakers and things of that nature.”

Senior linebacker Antjuan Simmons has been at the forefront of these conversations, doing whatever he can to help bring awareness to the issues.

“I’m an African-American myself, so when these issues started happening it was important for me to educate my teammates, educate coaches, whoever was around me,” Simmons said. “Just on what was going on, how we can make the world a better place, how we can impact our community. I think we did a very good job of that.”

Redshirt junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi believes these conversations have helped the team become closer with one another. Along with the meetings and presentations that Tucker has organized, the players have had additional meetings with just themselves, continuing the conversation and trying to find ways to create change.

“I think it’s been good for us to grow together a little bit on this issue,” Lombardi said. “It’s been talked about a lot, we’ve had a lot of team meetings over it. Just to open people’s eyes up a little bit and really understand what’s going on, understand what we can do to help this issue.”

antjuan-simmons

The players-only meetings got to the point where players who were typically quiet began speaking out. Fluid and productive conversation was taking place, something Simmons deemed to be very beneficial. 

“We had a great players’ meeting, I think it was three or four weeks ago, about everything and it was amazing," Simmons said. "We had people who didn’t really understand what was going on speak up and speak where they were coming from. We had other guys educating, guys who don’t really speak, speak up. It really brought out the best of the team.”

Racism still exists in America, and the fight for social justice is a marathon, not a sprint. Yes, Tucker has a football season to prepare for, but that takes a backseat in importance to what's going on right now in the real world. Tucker said these conversations will continue on into the season for the Spartans.

“My door is always open,” Tucker said. “I feel really good about how we’ve dealt with this, how we’ve communicated with our players. But it’s a work in progress and it’s a daily process and it’s something that we’re going to continue to work on daily.”

This article is part of our Information Overload print edition. View the entire issue here.

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