LINCOLN — The black rectangles appeared all over Twitter feeds Tuesday. It was a simple, powerful social media tribute for #BlackoutTuesday, meant to memorialize the death of George Floyd and other black lives lost at the hands of police officers.
You’re reading about it in a sports column because Nebraska coaches — even Nebraska Athletics’ official Twitter account — tweeted these black rectangles throughout Tuesday. The week-long protests have reached every corner of America, including college sports, where the dialogue is bound to be as vibrant as it was four years ago.
That's when then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt to protest police violence and started a nationwide conversation. Then, at Northwestern's Ryan Field on Sept. 24, 2016, three Husker football players — Michael Rose-Ivey, Mohamed Barry and DaiShon Neal — took a knee before the national anthem.
Readers may recall the busy, divisive days that followed. The speeches and interviews from the three players, the admonishment from Gov. Pete Ricketts, the support of Husker coaches. Because major sports — college and pro — have been halted by the coronavirus, it’s too early to say how the last, tumultuous week, and the days of protests likely to follow, will affect athletes’ on-field statements and actions once they return to play.
For now, you’re seeing an outpouring of support and love. Five major NU coaches — Scott Frost, Fred Hoiberg, Rhonda Revelle, Amy Williams and John Cook — posted statements on social media between Saturday and Tuesday.
“To the Black Community — I am sorry I have not listened in the past the way I am listening now and am committed to listening moving forward,” Revelle’s statement read in part. “I understand that I will never understand what you have dealt with or carried inside of you. I will continually work to educate and use my voice to end racism.”
Williams’ statement said she had been listening to the experiences of her husband, Lloyd, who is black, and others.
“Listening to my husband describe how he feels when he is the subject of unjust suspicion,” Williams’ statement said in part. “Listening to some of my best friends describe the fear they have raising their beautiful black sons in today’s world. Listening to the players I have been blessed to coach discuss their experiences as black women living among today’s social injustices. Listening to my daughters ask questions about what the color of their skin could cause them to face in their futures.”
NU women’s basketball player MiCole Cayton praised Williams’ statement.
“This is so powerful, to have a head coach who is fully educated on what is going on and takes the time out to talk about social injustices that are occurring is what it’s all about,” Cayton said.
Frost focused his message on faith.
"I humbly pray for the wisdom and strength to continue to lead our program in a positive way,” Frost’s statement read in part. "I pray for love instead of anger and for equality instead of injustice.”
Husker athletes — including football players — shared their voices, too.
“Your opinion and voice matters!” said freshman receiver Alante Brown, who is from Chicago. “Let the world hear your voice! Personally feel like the ones who don’t speak on what’s going on in ‘our’ country will continue to condone it or support it.”
Nebraska defensive end Ben Stille, who grew up in Ashland, took to task white protesters vandalizing and stealing property.
“The amount of WHITE people using BLACK lives matter protests as an excuse to vandalize and steal is the exact reason the protests are happening,” Stille said. “Not only have they been taken advantage of for hundreds of years, but now their protests are being taken advantage of, be better!”
Stille got more than 3,000 likes and retweets for those words. He also got some pushback — as is often the case on social media — even from Husker fans. One called him a “tough guy,” and asked what Stille thought of white victims during the protests. Another told him “stick to football, bud.”
Athletes aren’t just sticking to their sport. Why should they? Why would many of them be less informed or less experienced on the matter of racism? Sports — especially in college, especially in college football — draw student-athletes from every race, every band of household income, every sociopolitical worldview and many religions.
Nebraska’s locker room is easily one of the most diverse places in the state. Every season we interview roughly 100 different coaches and players with different stories, backgrounds and interests, and we learn more than we knew, and we realize how little we knew.
Business, church and city leaders all talk at length about how to attract and retain diversity. Athletics already has it. The NU men's basketball team has players from six countries. Trey McGowens is from Pendleton, South Carolina, population 2,964. Dalano Banton and Shamiel Stevenson grew up in Toronto, with 6 million in its metro area.
Sticking to sports? That means talking about the issues in the world right now.
On to a bit more about Nebraska sports:
» Two or three years from now, I think you’re going to like how the Huskers look in four- and five-receiver sets.
That may be true in 2020, but it’s wise, for now, to wait and see about the development of young, new receivers during the pandemic-shortened offseason, especially if JD Spielman doesn’t return.
But once their speed through the playbook matches their speed on the field, look out.
Nebraska finally has some size at wideout. Omar Manning (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) and Zavier Betts (6-2, 200) look like the Minnesota, Colorado and Purdue receivers who worked over the Husker secondary in each of the last two seasons. NU’s latest commit, 2021 receiver Shawn Hardy, fits the same mold. The Huskers won’t have to rely as much on smaller receivers to play out on the edges of the field. Manning, Betts and Hardy are all fast, as well.
Then, in the slot, you have Wan’Dale Robinson, Marcus Fleming, Will Nixon and others to play against linebackers and safeties. Fleming has jets. Robinson, like Spielman, has a nice savvy to find empty gaps in a zone defense.
Brown, one of the most interesting newcomers, can probably play a little bit of everything, including running back. Robinson and Nixon, too. You begin to see a receiving corps emerge that allows Frost and new offensive coordinator Matt Lubick to do just about anything on a given down.
Photos: Fourth day of protests in Omaha after James Scurlock's shooter not charged