- What happened at the capitol on Thursday was born out of Monday’s virtual team meeting, several players said.
- “If you fail to realize what’s going on in front of you, when you see it every day ... you’re close minded and you’re part of the problem.”
- Herman declined to speak to reporters while walking back to the stadium. “This is their day,” he said.
Thursday, a hot, humid Texas day in early June, brought about what should stand forever as one of the most memorable moments in Texas football history.
Dozens of Longhorns, their coaches and support staff members walked from Royal-Memorial Stadium to the steps of the State Capitol, flanked by members of the UT and city of Austin police forces.
Call it whatever you want — a George Floyd rally or a Black Lives Matter protest. The name ascribed to this gathering doesn’t particularly matter. It was without question a heartfelt expression of anger from mostly black athletes who are sick and tired of being targeted or judged simply by the color of their skin.
As light rush-hour traffic whizzed by on 15th Street, the entire group was asked to kneel for nine minutes. In total silence. Law enforcement officers joined in. Finally, Chris Brown, a senior defensive back from Houston, stood up.
“As you kneel in honor of George Floyd, as we approach the nine-minute mark, think about not having life after reaching that nine-minute mark,” Brown told the assembled gathering. “Think about no air being in your body as you reach that nine-minute mark. Think about having a life squeezed out of you.
“After nine minutes, there ain’t no more of this. After nine minutes, you can’t see no more. You can’t hear, you can’t breathe — nothing. After nine minutes, it’s over.
“So as we approach this nine-minute mark,” Brown continued, “I want you to think about how George Floyd felt, as the life and the air was being squeezed out this man’s body. For a non-violent crime.”
Here’s the scene at the Texas state capital of the Longhorns football team. pic.twitter.com/87q8cQoX4z
— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) June 4, 2020
Video captured a Minneapolis police officer putting his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds while three other officers were nearby, according to the criminal complaint. All four have been arrested and await prosecution. Floyd’s death has sparked national outrage over police brutality toward the black community.
Kevin Washington, UT’s director of player development, closed with a fiery message through a bullhorn. “What kind of world do we live in where people will watch somebody die! For nine minutes! For NINE MINUTES! They watched somebody die!” Washington said.
“We can’t go back down,” he said. “We can’t go back down until somebody lays us down in that box. I pray that all of you die of old age saying I did the right thing and I said the right things.”
What happened on Thursday was born out of Monday’s virtual team meeting, several players said. Longhorns coach Tom Herman told the American-Statesman on Monday that the emotions during that Zoom call were “all over the place.”
After the Zoom call, players started talking in a group text thread about possible next steps. They were angry. UT receiver Brennan Eagles floated the idea he might stop playing football altogether. The idea was born to walk from the stadium to the north entrance of the capitol. Players wore all black and many had face coverings to protect themselves from coronavirus.
“In order for things to change, it has to be the white person wanting to change or change the way they view African-Americans and their perspective of the stereotypes, the racial biases that were set upon us,” safety Caden Sterns said in an interview afterward.
Sterns acknowledged that some Texas fans won’t like hearing these words. “To them, I’m going to tell them I’m more than an athlete. I’m a black man first. I always will be,” he said. “We need everybody, because it’s bigger than that.
“It’s not about white people or white vs. black,” Sterns added. “It’s a system that continuously keeps failing us. I’m tired of seeing it. Our teammates are tired of seeing it. There’s so much emotion. It’s just hard.”
Cornerback Josh Thompson posted an emotional video on Twitter earlier this week. He admitted Thursday he “wanted to put that out there, not only for me but the younger generation also.” He is one of a growing number of athletes who recognize the power of their voice and social media platform at UT.
“We can’t control actually what’s really going on,” Thompson said. “There are unanswered questions everywhere. But the younger generation needs to have leaders. I feel like growing up, we’ve seen a lot of things, and I feel like our generation is kind of trying to make a change. So I just really want that to just keep flowing in each generation and not let this stop today.”
Thompson said flatly, “It doesn’t matter what color you are. Everybody’s tired of it because we’re all brothers at the end of the day.”
Quarterback Sam Ehlinger was one of the first UT athletes to post something on social media once protests started breaking out nationally. Ehlinger, who is white, has never pretended to fully understand the plight of his black teammates. He and his younger brother Jake, a UT linebacker, were both supportive of teammates on Thursday.
“I learned from an early age that there’s no difference in race and people shouldn’t be treated differently because of the color of their skin,” Ehlinger said while walking back to campus.
Asked to describe Monday’s Zoom call, Ehlinger paused, collected his thoughts and said, “I think the Zoom call was … emotional. For me personally, it was really great to be able to hear different perspectives.
“I think everybody is hurt,” Ehlinger added. “As a family, we’re hurt together, and it’s important for everybody on this team to know that every single person had each other’s back. We’re not going to stop until there’s change. I can speak for myself, but I got my teammates’ back for whatever. And that will never change.”
The emotionally-charged Brown was more sanguine after walking back to the stadium. But he freely admitted that the only place he feels truly safe is within UT’s campus.
“When police officers or service officials see an African-American male is bucking the system, well, how can you be upset when the system was never designed for this man to thrive?” Brown said. “That can be me. That can be one of my teammates. That can be my brother. That can be anybody.
“And it’s scary, honestly, especially when you were raised to not accept and tolerate those things and defend yourself and stand up for what you believe in, knowing that these are the possible outcomes of doing that. It’s scary.”
— UT Austin Police (@UTAustinPolice) June 5, 2020
Before players scattered, there were hugs, high-fives and optimism. For those who want the Horns to “stick to football,” that’ll come soon enough. Voluntary workouts are scheduled to begin June 15 as UT implements new protocols to protect players from spreading COVID-19.
Thursday was about spreading knowledge.
“People definitely got to see a different side of us,” linebacker Juwan Mitchell said. “Coach Herman let us be us. He told us in the team meeting, ‘Whatever y’all got to say, let it be heard.’ That’s what I feel like happened today.”
Herman declined to speak to reporters while walking back to the stadium. “This is their day,” he said.
“This can’t be it, right? This can’t be the end,” Herman told the players while gathered at the capitol. “We’ve got to be the agents of change. And I love each and every one of you. I’m so proud of you for doing this, man. I’m so proud. But this cannot be the end of it. This cannot be the end of it. We’ve got to keep fighting until we get justice.”
Sterns said numerous times the issue of equality was far bigger than him, far bigger than any Longhorn.
“If you fail to realize what’s going on in front of you, when you see it every day, on social media you see how we’ve been viewed throughout history and the way we’ve been treated, you’re close-minded and you’re part of the problem,” Sterns said.
“You have to educate yourself. As white people, you got to educate yourself, because it’s right in front of you. All you’ve got to do is just look. The only way not to see this is if you clearly just turn around.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.