Photo credit: Briana Sanchez/American-Statesman-USA TODAY Network
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Todd Golden and Billy Napier are not only new head coaches for the Florida Gators, but they're also fathers. And every father, mother and relative of a young child in the world has something other than work on their mind this week.
19 elementary school children and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday, at the hand of an 18-year-old area resident. Another 17 people were injured, per reports, and a motive has yet to be uncovered.
Uvalde, a town with a population of just over 15,000, is the home of the 27th reported school shooting in the United States in 2022. A sign of the times and that this plague on the country is spreading rather than diminishing, the 2022 count is close to matching 2021's total of 34, less than six months into the year.
Each coach was asked for their responses as parents — Golden, 36, is a father of two; Napier, 42, a father of three — ahead of UF's speaking event in Gainesville on Thursday night, a practice that has become common across sports and all forms of entertainment in response to similar, melancholic events.
"As a parent, it's concerning because it's happening, you know, far too often," Golden, UF's new head men's basketball coach, told media. "It's very tough. And I don't have the answers, I will not pretend to, but it's concerning."
Answers on how to bring these instances of horror to an end evade seemingly everyone who is asked the question, even those in charge of creating change in the U.S. despite the frequency of these events in recent years.
Arguments over gun control and mental health regularly arise, though, which Golden touched on without offering an opinion on which factor is more pressing, instead suggesting supporters of each argument come together to force progress.
"It just becomes a very divisive topic," Golden said. "It's just, I wish we would have better answers to what has been happening too often.
"And obviously, I think the majority of people in this country are really good people and want to work towards a solution as opposed to making it a divisive political situation where we're talking about guns, we're talking about mental health, we're talking about all these different things."
Divisive as the situations can become due to reactions nationwide, the incident itself is an undeniable tragedy that wrenches at the heartstrings of parents and any compassionate individual aware of the act of terror.
The moment Napier learned of the shooting remains fresh in Florida's new head football coach's mind.
"We hit the ground the other day, we went to the Buffalo Bills for OTAs ... we hit the ground and my phone registered and I saw what had happened," Napier recalled. "You know, a lot of topics here to discuss and I've tried as much as I can to get up to speed, but some of these things, they continue to be issues, right? You're talking about two highly debated topics when you talk about mental health, when you talk about gun control. I think, obviously, right, wrong or indifferent here, you just feel strongly for the people that were affected.
"What I’ve learned in life, these difficult things that we go through — individually, as a group of people, whether it’s a community, a university, a nation — these cause dialogue, these cause conversation, these cause people to see other vantage points regardless of where you stand on these issues."
Napier would echo Golden's point, stressing the need for public unity while making efforts to end the senseless carnage of children in schools.
"That’s what we need to do: Have the best and the brightest from both sides, both vantage points, to come together, find common ground and come up with solutions," Napier claimed. "It’s a tragedy and there’s things we can learn from this, but you feel awful for the people involved. I’m just hopeful we can find common ground."
Mass shootings have hit the nerves of several new coaches and assistants at Florida. Assistant athletic director of football recruiting strategy Katie Turner, a Buffalo, N.Y. native, has been outspoken on social media regarding the racially motivated supermarket shooting that left ten dead and three injured in her hometown just two weeks ago on May 14, as well as Uvalde.
"These past few days have been filled [with] sadness & disbelief after the horrific acts of hatred that shocked my hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.," Turner tweeted on May 17, sharing the link to a Buffalo community response fund.
Uvalde and Buffalo aren't even the most recent mass shootings to occur in the U.S. this year. The latest, the 214th in the nation in 2022, occurred in Philadelphia, Pa. on May 25 — four people were injured while preparing for a prom sendoff party, per NBC 10 Philadelphia.
"A lot of these things don’t ever get to the surface. There’s lots of things like this that happen in our world that never make it to the surface," Napier made note of. "I’m hopeful that we can come up with really good solutions. You just feel awful for the people involved.”
Unfortunately — understanding a mass shooting takes place more than once a day and school shootings occur once every 5.4 days on average in the U.S. this year — these won't be the last parents in mourning that Golden and Napier will pity.
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