Actions speak louder than words.
In the past two weeks, people across the United States have protested racial injustice following the death of George Floyd. A white Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of Floyd for nearly nine minutes, and Floyd died in custody on May 25.
The protests demanding changes to combat systemic racism have become the top news story nationally.
With nearly everyone’s attention turned toward racial injustice, many college coaches have released statements about racial injustice. UVa’s Bronco Mendenhall was among the college football coaches to share a statement.
“I have no way of fully understanding the fear, pain, and anger members of the Black community at UVa and all over the world are feeling right now,” Mendenhall wrote in his statement released on May 30. “But that doesn’t absolve me, or anyone else, from our responsibility to be honest about the world around us and to use our influence to drive positive change.”
Speaking out against racial injustice certainly helps bring awareness to the issue, especially when the words come from someone with a platform as large as Mendenhall’s.
It’s unclear, however, exactly what actions Mendenhall and the Virginia coaching staff will take in the coming weeks and months to drive positive change. What is clear is that the UVa football coaches are willing to let their players take a stand.
The coaches want to help create progress, and they know to do that they need to start by listening to their team and letting the players use their voices.
“They have really just tried to sit back and listen and educate themselves, which I’ve appreciated,” UVa linebacker Charles Snowden said. “I mean, our coaching staff specifically, they all kind of came from Utah and Montana and Wyoming where you can imagine there’s not much diversity. They’ve just been privileged enough to where they don’t have to think about these issues, and now that it’s at the forefront, I can tell that they are genuinely trying to learn and care for us.”
Snowden has attended roughly five protests in Washington D.C. in the past couple weeks. He’s spoken with several media outlets about his experience protesting and the message he wants to send.
Fellow linebacker Nick Jackson protested in the Atlanta area, even speaking on a local news broadcast. In a clip of the broadcast shared on social media, Jackson discussed the importance of keeping the protest peaceful to help shed light on issues facing his local community.
“Proud of you [Nick Jackson] for being a leader and bringing change to your community,” UVa inside linebackers coach Shane Hunter wrote on Twitter.
Snowden says he’s been impressed with the white coaches and players on the team wanting to help create change. He says multiple players on the team have reached out to him with ideas to make a difference in the Charlottesville and UVa community.
At this point, the team is working on narrowing those broad ideas down into actionable possibilities.
“I’ve never once doubted in my mind how much these coaches care about us off the field as well as on the field, and they know that this is something we deal with off the field,” Snowden said. “They want to help and do their part and our teammates [do] as well. They were a little bit more informed before this, but they’ve all just listened and tried to help.”
There are ideas on the table to help generate change when players return to grounds. In the meantime, Snowden and Jackson are among the UVa players using their platforms to protest in their respective communities.
Snowden believes the protests are working, and he’s thankful that Mendenhall and the entire UVa coaching staff have his back as he uses his voice to speak out against racial injustice.
“It means a lot,” Snowden said. “We always say, ‘Family first, last and always.’ This is just another example of coach just proving it and talking the talk but also walking the walk.”