NORMAN -- Oklahoma University’s football team canceled practice Friday to march lockstep from the stadium to the campus Unity Garden to protest racial injustice and the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“We made this march of solidarity, not because we have the answers to all that's going on in our country right now,” said head coach Lincoln Riley. “But we are a group of people that are hurt, that are scared, frustrated, but motivated to do our part.”
It was the latest display of the ripple effect in the athletic world of protests against police violence and racial injustice against Black people.
Blake was shot seven times in the back at close range by a Kenosha police officer on Sunday as he entered the driver’s side of a parked car that included his three children. He underwent surgery and survived, though his family said he is partially paralyzed.
Racial unrest has occurred in several American cities over the May 25 death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, the earlier police shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and the firearm killing of jogger Ahmaud Arbery by three white men who pursued him near Brunswick, Georgia.
Widespread dissent over racial injustice spread this week to professional basketball, baseball, soccer and hockey teams intent on leveraging their popularity in support of social change.
Oklahoma’s football team, a member of the Big 12 Conference, was among the first collegiate athletes to show their distress. The players, coaches and staff walked briskly from the practice field -- three to a row, arms linked -- then stood at the garden area in a semi-circle to observe 57 seconds of silence in honor of the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington by the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Associate head coach Dennis Simmons closed the gathering by leading a prayer before the team returned to their locker room.
“There's been a lot of build up to this,” Riley told reporters following the demonstration. “We always push on our players to try to do more and more and more. That doesn't just apply to the football field. It doesn't just apply to the classroom.”
Riley said the team provided a platform for players to share their feelings and experiences.
“Those conversations have been tough,” he said. “They've been raw and unfiltered. They have been eye-opening, very emotional, very intense. They've given every person not only an opportunity to express themselves but also, and maybe more importantly, an opportunity to listen. Listen to what other people have gone through.”
The coach said the team selected the campus Unity Garden for its public display of concern “because it symbolizes unity and unity is possible. And it is possible with different backgrounds because I've witnessed it and continue to witness it with this group right here.”
Details for this story were provided by the Norman, Oklahoma, Transcript.