George Floyd’s death a ‘call to arms’ for Kelvin Sampson in battle against social injustice
When Houston men’s basketball head coach Kelvin Sampson first saw the video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, he was taken back to a dark time as a kid growing up in the South.
“To me, he might as well have had a pillowcase over his head with his eyes dotted out and his nose dotted out,” Sampson said of Chauvin. “It just brought back memories of the Ku Klux Klan from the ’50s and ’60s.”
The 64-year-old head coach, who grew up in Pembroke, North Carolina, was heartbroken when he heard Floyd’s cries for air.
“It almost brought you to tears,” he said. “But it also motivated me. It was kind of a call to arms…
“(It) has motivated me to hug my players. Hug my family. Take care of them, but also give them a platform.”
For nearly two weeks, the United States has been engulfed with social unrest, outrage and protests following Floyd’s death on May 25, which caused many to reach a breaking point.
“When this happened, I’ll be honest, I was tired,” Tulane men’s basketball head coach Ron Hunter said. “I felt defeated …
“I can’t believe after 56 years I still have to do this.”
The Dayton, Ohio, native joined Sampson and others as part of a Zoom video conference on Friday afternoon with other members of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
The group of NABC members voiced their frustrations over discrimination, social inequalities, police brutality and racism towards minorities, specifically against black Americans but also discussed ways to help make long-lasting change.
“Until we talk about these things, there will be no change,” Sampson said. “I gave all our kids a platform to share stories and their feelings. I think that’s a positive that has come out of that.”
As the coaches spoke for nearly two hours, some sharing their own experiences with racism, many ideas were thrown around, but the two common messages that kept being brought up were education and for the coaches to take advantage of their platform.
In regards to the latter, Kentucky head coach John Calipari said he hopes to start making a change at his own campus.
The 61-year-old head coach shared with the other NABC members that he has discussed wanting to start internship opportunities for minorities to work within Kentucky’s athletic department in media relations, marketing, training staff and other areas.
Calipari wishes for the entire department to be so diverse that other schools would call the Wildcats and ask how they did it.
“My area of influence, my little corner of where I can do something is my own players, keeping them safe,” Calipari said. “It’s also about telling them they have a voice. Educate yourself. Know what you stand for and what you can do.”
Sampson and the other coaches agreed with Calipari on the importance of educating their players.
The Houston head coach even shouted out Georgia Tech for committing to give their student-athletes Election Day off so that they can have an opportunity to vote.
“Nov. 3, that should be an automatic day off,” Sampson said. “Every one of our kids should be registered to vote. … We should educate them on the candidates …”
The University should explain to its student-athletes what the differences between Democrats and Republicans is, what they are running for and how that will affect them, Sampson said.
“Some of this will be absentee voting, some of it will be taking them to a stall and letting them see what voting is all about,” he said.
As for how the coaches can impact change, they all believe it starts by having a conversation and dialogue.
“Education through conversation …” Hunter said. “We just need to listen sometimes.”
Both Calipari and Penn State head coach Pat Chambers acknowledged as white men their perspective on the situation may differ from their minority counterparts.
“I need to ask more questions, and I think we all need to do that,” Chambers said.
They both agreed that this has been a perfect time to get educated on different viewpoints to help change the prejudices and discrimination towards the African American community.
“I understand that I may never understand, but I stand with you,” Calipari said.
For the coaches, the success of making a change hinges on the help of white people, not just people of color.
“When it’s more important to Pat and John,” Sampson said, “when you guys are leading the charge, that’s when I think we have a chance.”
The coaches also all agreed in wanting to start an NABC program similar to Coaches vs. Cancer that is already established, so people across the country can have a tangible outlet to be united in the fight against racism.
“The platform of CVC is right there in front of us,” Chambers said. “The formula is there. The model works. It’s super successful. For me, that’s is how we can continue the discussion and be consistent in what we want to do and gain real traction.”