This past Thursday afternoon, Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach was expecting to run a football practice. By the time practice time rolled around though, Leach's Bulldog players had joined with other college and professional teams around the country in staging a protest against social injustice.
For the first time since those events, Leach met with reporters on Saturday, online via Zoom, to discuss his feelings on his players electing not to practice in order to take a stand for their cause.
"Well it kind of percolated around the whole country and then of course, we support our guys and want to have open dialogue on any issue and I think that provided an opportunity to do that," Leach said. "But I think also that players need to recognize what a great platform they have when they play. They're examples and just like them and the guys ahead of them, young people and fans all admire them and respect them. I think the very best platform is playing and seeing people pulling together from all walks of life and pulling for one another."
Social justice and racial equality have again risen to the forefront of the country of late after police shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, on August 23. In the following days, professional teams in different leagues called off games. Multiple college football teams didn't practice in protest.
Mississippi State players gathered in downtown Starkville at the town's Unity Park on Thursday. The group had a brief gathering at the small venue in which they voiced love for one another and took a few pictures before dispersing.
"Black, brown, blue – it doesn't matter. We love all you," Bulldog senior defensive end Kobe Jones shouted as the group huddled together before leaving.
Leach soon followed the events on Thursday with a post on Twitter showing his support for his team.
"I am proud to be the Head Football Coach at Mississippi State," Leach posted. "I applaud our players for expressing some of their fears and anxieties today. I support them and look forward to working with them tomorrow, to use football to elevate us and the people around us. Hail State!"
And while Leach firmly stood behind his guys, as he spoke Saturday, it was apparent he believes his players' voices are louder when they play. Leach cited an example by turning to the past when USC running back Sam "Bam" Cunningham – a black man – led an integrated USC team to a blowout victory over a virtually-all-white Alabama team back in 1970. It was an event many look at as a key moment in helping push along racial equality in Southern college football.
"The example of people pulling together and working together I think is the most compelling aspect of it," Leach said of the role being on the field can have.
Whether using the playing field or protests, Leach admits there is still injustice for his players and everyone to fight. Ultimately, Leach is hoping strides can be made toward equality, regardless of people's opinions of how to attain that progress.
"I think that everybody agrees and is against injustice," Leach said. "I think we're all against that. I think the approach, people have different approaches to it. So then I think, as the dialogue continues, hopefully everybody gets on the same page and we create as much justice as we possibly can."
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