East Lansing — Michigan State’s most prominent coaches already have spoken out about the death of George Floyd and protests that have overtaken the country.
On Thursday, athletic director Bill Beekman added his thoughts while announcing a key new position in the Michigan State athletic department.
“On Monday, I sent a letter to our student-athletes sharing my thoughts on the recent examples of violence against black Americans,” Beekman said. “In that letter, I expressed the many emotions I felt over the last week — sadness, shock, anger, outrage. I especially wanted to make clear to our students that we in athletics are here to support them and hear them and that I, personally, am here to support them and hear them, that their views and ideas are important and we all grow when they share their thoughts and perspectives with our community.
“Our campus will be a safe place for them to continue to learn and grow, and that diversity and inclusion aren't things we do, but who we are.”
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died last week 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 fatal arrest has incited protests in cities across America, including Detroit. The former officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder while the other three officers involved were charged this week with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Last week, Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo and football coach Mel Tucker spoke out.
Izzo released a statement 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.”
Tucker expressed his thoughts on Floyd’s death, which he called “horrific and heartbreaking,” in a statement posted on his Twitter account Friday night.
“I am not a politician or reporter, I am simply a grieving father and citizen,” Tucker said. “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.”
On Thursday, as Beekman discussed student-athletes returning to campus for voluntary workouts, he talked about the university’s Diversity and Leadership Committee, a student-athlete run group, organizing a virtual meeting called “Black in America,” an open conversation with student athletes and staff.
Beekman added he’ll be developing workgroups made up of current and former student athletes, staff and coaches.
“Speaking specifically to our former student-athletes, our actions today should have the goal of making Spartans of every era proud to be Spartans for life,” Beekman said. “Creating a culture isn't a top-down thing. It's not a bottom-up thing. It's a team effort, and so we'll do it as a team.”
Beekman also announced Michigan State will be hiring a chief diversity officer, a position that has been discussed since last fall and now will be filled, despite budget constraints.
“It’s just simply too important to wait,” Beekman said. “I'm also pleased that we'll be implementing a thoroughly revised educational series focused on race to help educate all within our department. We'll supplement this educational programming by bringing to campus a series of nationally renowned speakers and teachers so that together, we can learn and grow.”