The death of George Floyd has sparked protests across the nation about police brutality and racial injustice.
Amid the widespread outrage and reaction, Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo and football coach Mel Tucker each issued statements calling for unity, action and “real change.”
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died on Monday in Minneapolis after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer’s knee in an incident that was recorded on video. The former officer, Derek Chauvin, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on Friday, and the fatal arrest has incited protests in cities across America, including Detroit, throughout the week.
Izzo released a statement on Saturday in which he called the last few days “among my most difficult as a coach” and said “the racism and injustice I’ve witnessed has sickened my soul.”
“The conversations I’ve had with players and staff, both current and former, have been raw and emotional,” Izzo said in the statement. “I’ve done a lot of listening and heard a lot of pain in their stories. It’s been a struggle for me to find the right words to say. I don’t have all the answers — far from it. But one thing that’s certain is that I can’t stay silent.
“Over the last few months, we’ve often heard, ‘We’re all in this together.’ That’s never been more true than it is now. If we are going to fight racism, it’s a burden we all share, regardless of the color of our skin. We are facing a giant problem, and the solutions aren’t easy — but that can’t stop us from trying.”
It’s not the first time Izzo has shown for support social movements. During the 2017-18 season when national anthem protests were taking place across the country, Michigan State wore warm-up shirts that read “We talk, we listen” to ignite conversations about social injustices.
“As a country, we must do better,” Izzo continued. “We can’t change the past, but we must start to build a better future — a future where everyone feels safe and valued.”
“Speaking out is important, but the change we desire can’t just come from words — it comes from action. We have to call out injustice when we see it. We need to respect and support one another. We must love our fellow human beings!
“For a country that has many wonderful diverse cultures, we have to stand together as Americans. We must stand together for human rights and against racism.”
Tucker expressed his thoughts on Floyd’s death, which he called “horrific and heartbreaking,” in a statement posted on his Twitter account Friday night.
“As a football coach, I am acutely aware that my words can be taken out of context or distorted,” Tucker said in the statement. “I err on the side of caution always mindful not to alienate one side of the fan base or the other. However, we live in uncertain and polarizing times that demand leadership and voices of hope.
“In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.’
“It’s been almost impossible for me to articulate my feelings about what happened to George Floyd. The echo of his cry for his mother and the knee on his neck will forever be burned into our collective hearts. No matter what your race is, where you pray, who you choose to live your life with or where you cast your vote, what we all witnessed — again — was horrific and heartbreaking to watch. But we must not turn away.
“It’s equally important to say that I have many police officer friends — men and women who wear the blue uniform and have kept me, my family and my teams safe over three decades. I am grateful for their service, sacrifice and their dedication to lay down their lives for strangers. With an investigation underway, we look to them and our public officials to ensure justice prevails.
“I am not a politician or reporter, I am simply a grieving father and citizen. I believe with education, justice, acceptance and love, we can evoke real change. We must. John F. Kennedy said, ‘Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.’ As a people, let us make our purpose and direction to stop the violence and come together to make our country a better and safer place for our children.”