Area athletes, coaches react to Floyd protests

North Carolina sports figures had emotional reactions to the death

North Carolina Central basketball coach LeVelle Moton challenged coaches at top schools to speak out and support the black community. (Timothy D. Easley / AP Photo)

The protests in cities across the nation following George Floyd’s death at the hands of police impacted North Carolina, with demonstrations in most of the state’s major cities.

Many of the biggest names in sports from around the state chose not to “stick to sports” and got involved, either through statements on issues related to the protests or by participating directly in the demonstrations.

Dennis Smith Jr. joined protesters in the streets of his hometown Fayetteville, standing with friend and rapper J. Cole during the demonstrations on Friday. After starring for Trinity Christian in Fayetteville, Smith spent a year at NC State before getting selected ninth overall in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Former Duke forward Jack White, who graduated after finishing his four-year career with the Blue Devils this year, was also spotted at a peaceful demonstration in Raleigh on Monday night.

White’s former coach Mike Krzyzewski was one of several major college coaches from the state to issue statements. Coach K was particularly emotional in his statement, saying he was struggling to find eloquent words to use before giving up. “I cannot be eloquent about this,” he wrote. “I am too emotional. I am angry! I am frustrated. I am disgusted, and frankly, I am scared.”

As he did in a statement following the COVID-19 shutdown, Krzyzewski reached out to the people most impacted and offered help, asking simply, “What can I do?”

Coach K’s colleague at Duke, football coach David Cutcliffe, also released a statement, saying, “We must see real change.” However, his defensive coordinator, Matt Guerrieri, had a more powerful response, posting a photo of him posing with 41 Blue Devils players, 36 of whom were African American.

“I have not walked in the young men’s shoes in this photo,” he wrote, “but I am proud to be standing with them.”

UNC’s Hall of Fame head coaches were among the first of area coaches to release statements. Roy Williams said on Friday that the people “who are peacefully protesting injustice have my complete support” and called Floyd’s death “something that we can no longer tolerate as a country.”

Football coach Mack Brown tweeted a day earlier, calling police killings “unacceptable.”

“The violence has to stop,” Brown tweeted. “We talk about communication, trust and respect. There’s not much of that right now and it continues to tear us apart.”

NC State coach Kevin Keatts posted an emotional statement, saying, “I’ve tried to explain to my boys how all of this is still possible in 2020,” and concluded with, “This must stop!!!!”

State’s football coach, Dave Doeren, also tweeted a statement, saying he was disgusted by Floyd’s death and offered the advice, “We only get one chance to live our lives. Don’t waste it.”

While he may not have the national recognition of his ACC counterparts, NC Central head coach LeVelle Moton had the most powerful response of area coaches, telling the story of being stopped by police while driving with Raymond Felton in 2005.

“See that cop didn’t see a coach,” he tweeted. “That cop didn’t see Ray as a National Champion from UNC, he saw what he perceived as ‘Two Dope Boys’ and that’s what was scary.”

Moton then challenged Power Five coaches to support Floyd and his family.

A few days later, Moton appeared on ESPN radio and called out coaches for not doing so.

“Their grandkids’ kids are gonna be able to live a prosperous life because (of) athletes who were the complexion of George Floyd,” he said. “But whenever people (who are) the complexion of George Floyd are killed, assassinated, murdered in the street in broad daylight, they’re silent.”

Bubba Wallace, driver of the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 and the only black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series, spoke out on Twitter about George Floy’d death. (Ralph Freso / AP Photo)

The area’s professional sports athletes also reacted. Hornets owner and NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, often criticized for not getting involved in political issues, released a statement calling out the “ingrained racism and violence toward people of color in our country” He also said, “I am deeply saddened, truly pained and just plain angry … We have had enough!”

The Carolina Hurricanes released a statement in support of Floyd and the protesters, but it was one of their players, Jaccob Slavin, whose response reflected the most emotion. Slavin and his wife adopted an African American child, and he said, “I hate that it took having a black daughter to open our eyes to the racism and injustices that go on in our world and our country. We especially hate that it went on in our own hearts, but it did.”

Bubba Wallace, one of the only black drivers in NASCAR Cup Series history, had a raw response on Twitter, saying, “(Stuff)’s getting old … hell it’s been old. WTF is gonna change?” He also responded to people saying it was a “black vs. white” issue, saying, “Open your eyes. It’s right vs. wrong. It’s inclusion. We’re one race … humans.”