All it took was a Zoom call with his players to spur Syracuse coach Dino Babers to break his silence on the racial tension in the country.
One of only 14 black head coaches among the 130 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision and intensely private, Babers was ready for the moment when he released a statement Wednesday on his Twitter account.
“I am angry. I am hurting,” Babers wrote. “The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and the countless other innocent black lives that have been taken is wrong and inexcusable. We as a nation are hurting. Families and communities are in pain. I lived through the civil rights movement. I was alive when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. I was alive when black men and women were forced to use separate water fountains, separate restrooms, and could not eat in certain restaurants. What is a history book to others, and news to some now, is the life I’ve been living. Now is the time to put a light on it.”
In his fifth season at Syracuse and 34th year as a coach, Babers elaborated Thursday on another Zoom call, this time with reporters.
“That was hard for me to do. I’ve never done anything like that,” he said. “It’s not because I didn’t want to. When I wake up in the morning and I look in the mirror there’s a black man staring back at me. I get that’s what I’m identified with. But my big thing was I always wanted to just be recognized as a coach, and I felt as long as I had that philosophy first, then I could pave the way for other people to have the opportunity that I have, to be a head football coach at the highest level, and to stay focused and locked-in on those things.”
Babers said the call with his players was illuminating.
“I started to hear all the young men talk to me and express things to me — young men that I love — and how important it was for them that I get out there and say something. They brought me to tears,” he said. “It’s hard to let family down. I told them once I realized how they felt about it, it wasn’t that it had to be written, it just hadn’t been released.”
Babers said he understood the disappointment expressed by members of the Syracuse community for his delay in speaking out and apologized in his tweet.
“I needed to process, I needed to pray, I needed to talk to my wife, my daughters and my son-in-laws. I needed to listen to their pain while I processed my own,” he wrote.
Just over 60 football players returned to campus Tuesday for voluntary workouts. Babers said they're being grouped in pods of four for lifting weights and running, but no football and no groups of greater than 10. He said the size of the pods could be increased if the school gets the OK medically.
The prospect of the players using football to demonstrate where they stand on social issues looms once play begins. Babers and athletic director John Wildhack said everyone will be allowed to express themselves.
“They are energized,” Babers said. “They want to make a difference.”
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