Old Dominion’s Bobby Wilder warned fellow college football coaches during a national TV interview Friday morning that they’d better start listening to players and how they are reacting to recent police shootings or risk seeing their teams divided.
“When I listen to our players, they want their voices heard,” Wilder said on ESPN’s SportsCenter. “And they feel right now like the adults, the politicians, the people that make policy, are not hearing them.
“This is a shout-out to college coaches all over the country: You’d better get in your locker rooms and meeting room with your players and you’d better listen to them. Take your attention away from a little from your third-down defense and your red-zone offense and open your ears, listen to your players and respond to what they’re feeling.
“They need to channel what they’re feeling. They can’t have that suppressed. I made it clear if I suppress their ability to express themselves, I’m part of the problem, I’m not part of the solution. There are too many people not listening to young people.”
Wilder listened to his four captains late last week when they met to discuss how to respond to the latest shooting in Charlotte.
The result: Some ODU players wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts on the field during individual workouts about 90 minutes before last Saturday’s game against Texas-San Antonio. Wilder said that was a one-time thing.
“We had black, white, and Latino players all wearing Black Lives Matter shirts,” Wilder said.
Minutes before kickoff, ODU’s players gathered in a circle, joined hands with their coaches, and raised their arms. Wilder called the gesture the “circle of unity,” and the team’s efforts have gathered attention from local high schools, other colleges, and some NFL teams.
ODU and Charlotte players will participate in a circle of unity tonight before kick-off at Richardson Stadium, just 3 miles from the site of a controversial police shooting last month.
Carolina Panthers safety Tre Boston planned to meet Friday night with the Monarchs at their hotel to discuss the circle of unity and determine if it’s something the Panthers should do.
Wilder said he understands the point of view of his black players.
“They look out there and they see what’s going on in Tulsa and in Charlotte and they are fearful for their future,” Wilder said, adding that a quarter of his players are criminal justice majors.
“They want that to change. They absolutely love and respect the military, the over one million police officers, and first responders in our country. But they can’t understand why 99.99 percent of law enforcement who are their brothers and sisters that love us and care for us do the right thing, but the .01 percent make them afraid when they’re pulled over at a traffic stop.
“I’m a 52-year-old white guy. I’ve never felt that. But my players feel that. They want to do something that’s positive that will help make a change.
“It saddens us when we see high school kids come out and take a knee and turn away from the flag during the national anthem. We understand why, but our message is why not come out and do the circle of unity, why not show support and love for our country, show respect for everyone in the country?”
Wilder said he was gratified when Charlotte coach Brad Lambert agreed to take part in the circle of unity.
The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons made a similar gesture Monday night. “But unlike the Saints and Falcons, we’re going to intermingle the teams,” Wilder said. “We’re going to try to get the crowd involved with us.
“This is gaining momentum. We hope more teams do this.
“We respect everyone’s freedom of speech. But let’s start doing things to unify the country rather than add to the noise.”
Wilder and ODU have created a new foundation, called Humanity 4 Children, and are hoping it will become tax-exempt so that it can accept donations.
The first of many promised Humanity 4 Children events are at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at Foreman Field. All kids are welcome, and Wilder has reached out to the Norfolk public schools and the Lambert’s Point after-school center.
Law enforcement also will be asked to participate.
Wilder and his players are advocating a new hashtag to promote tolerance and love: #WALT, which stands for the watch, accept, listen and tolerate.
“Bias is a learned behavior,” Wilder said. “Kids learn it at an early age. The only way we’re going to affect change is to get to these kids early.
“Our players will play games with the kids, then speak to all of them, briefly, about the school, about doing the right thing. Athletes are heroes to these kids and we believe they can have an enormous impact.”
Posted on: Sep 30, 2016, at 10:30 AM