Basketball

Coach K: Black Lives Matter not a political issue

  • Covers college basketball
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2011
  • Graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato

In a passionate message in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said “it’s time” for America to address and solve systemic racism.

Through a message released via Twitter on Friday afternoon, Krzyzewski said America had chosen the “easier wrong” for 400 years and denied the impact of racism.

“We see that,” Krzyzewski said in the video. “And what do we do when we see it? We turn the other way. We don’t solve the problem. The problem will not be solved and no problem is solved unless you acknowledge the problem. Acknowledge it. If you acknowledge it, you have the duty to solve it. We as a country have the duty to solve this problem.”

Krzyzewski had previously released a statement after George Floyd was killed when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes, which said, “I am angry!”

On Friday, the five-time national champion coach said the support of African-Americans in this moment is a matter of humanity.

“Black Lives Matter. Say it. Can you say it? Black Lives Matter,” Krzyzewski said at the start of the video. “We should be saying it every day. It’s not political. This is not a political statement. It’s a human rights statement. It’s a fairness statement.”

While Floyd’s death sparked protests around the country, there had been multiple incidents that had fueled the emotions of those affected and concerned about the climate in the country around race. Three white men were recently indicted on murder charges for the February killing of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot while jogging in Georgia. Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker, was killed in Louisville, Kentucky, in March after police executed a “no-knock” warrant and shot the 26-year-old at least eight times, per reports. An officer has been charged with felony murder after shooting and killing Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy’s parking lot in Atlanta earlier this month. A second officer has been charged with aggravated assault. Both were dismissed following the incident, which was captured on video.

“Do we not see the problem?” Krzyzewski asked. “The disease, the plague that has been with our country for four centuries. Do we not see systemic racism and social injustice. C’mon. We all see it. It’s manifested in so many ways: criminal justice, the killings that we have seen and that we haven’t seen, the denial of economic opportunities for our Black community, educational opportunities, health care. it’s manifested in so many ways and has been for four centuries.”

Krzyzewski’s messages follows a string of actions by a variety of college basketball coaches who’ve vowed to create change. South Carolina’s Frank Martin, Harvard’s Tommy Amaker, North Carolina Central’s LeVelle Moton and other minority coaches have called for high schools and colleges to require courses in Black history for students before their graduation.

John Calipari has promised to start a minority internship program in the Kentucky athletic department. A group of Big East assistant coaches have formed a coalition to address injustice.

The National Association for Coaching Equity and Development, a group anchored by some of the top black coaches in the country, has called out the lack of diversity among coaches, athletic directors and school presidents in collegiate athletics.

“For a long time now, black, brown and economically oppressed Americans have been whispering ‘We can’t breathe,’ but America has not been listening,” the group’s statement said. “This has never been more prevalent than it is today in the hiring practices of professional and collegiate sports organizations in leadership positions. Head coaches, athletics directors, general managers and owners still remain predominantly white, while players are predominantly black.”

Krzyzewski has led one of college basketball’s elite programs since 1980. His statement punctuates a collective energy, which has grown in recent weeks, within the college basketball community.

“We, as a country, have chosen the easier wrong for four centuries,” Krzyzewski said, referencing a prayer from his days as an Army cadet. “It is time to choose the harder right. It is time to end systemic racism and social injustice. It’s time. Black Lives Matter.”

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