Eric Montross is one of Dean's boys. It's a title proudly worn and said by many players from Dean Smith's coaching era at North Carolina, 1961-1997, and with that title comes great responsibility.
When Coach Smith's name is spoken, the words 'champion' or 'one of college basketball winningest coach' isn't the first thing spoken. It's the words of 'change' 'humility,' 'sacrifice,' 'teamwork' and 'humanity' that precede his accomplishments; Coach Smith was more than a basketball coach. He was a humanitarian that brought on Carolina's first black basketball player, he took his players to children's hospitals and was a 'player's coach'; Coach Smith's legacy exceeds the basketball court.
Those values have trickled down to his players and assistants such as Rasheed Wallace, Kenny 'The Jet' Smith, Roy Williams, Jeff McInnis, and Eric Montross. As of late, those voices have been prominent in speaking against racial injustice. Players of prominence are using their national platforms the way Coach Smith taught them.
Eric Montross is a leading definition of Tar Heel. The Indiana native didn't take long to bleed Carolina blue. The former McDonald's All-American played for Coach Smith from 1990-1994. During his tenure, Montross appeared in 139 games, averaging 11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. He was an NCAA Champion in 1993 and was named an All-American in his junior and senior years. One of his more memorable games involves the university 8 miles up the road, Duke University, in 1992.
Dubbed the 'Bloody Montross' game, North Carolina defeated Duke in the last seconds, 75-73 in the Smith Center. The image of Montross shooting free throws through a gash under his left eye, blood trickling down, became an iconic photo in Carolina history. Montross finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
Montross has steadily been doing work in charities and donating to non-profits such as "Me Fine"; a foundation that provide hope and help to critically ill children at Duke and UNC Chapel Hill Hospitals and their families. The Indiana native is known to extend himself to those who need help at any moment.
In the challenging year of 2020, Montross came face to face with something he never realized, his privilege. The last few months have been a learning experience for him as he reached out to his close friends to understand his privilege and how to use it to invoke change. Racism was never at his forefront because he loved everybody. He views everyone on an equal platform.
His face in Carolina Basketball "Black Lives Matter" video meant more than just releasing a statement of unity. He's promising to stand alongside his teammates and best friends in their fight for equality.
Along with Michael Jordan, Roy Williams, Raymond Felton, Jawad Williams, Ty Lawson, Danny Green, Kennedy Meeks, and a host of others released a visual statement calling for change and ending systemic racism against Black Lives.
In the video, former players are calling for:
- The elimination of police brutality (George Lynch)
- Stop the killing of unarmed Black citizens (Theo Pinson, James Worthy)
- Decriminalization of skin color (Danny Green, Sam Perkins, Jawad Williams)
- Voter registration (Green, Perkins)
- Vocal actions (Sean May, Luke Maye, Justin Jackson)
- Compassion (Jimmy Black)
- Racial reconciliation (Marvin Williams)
- Listening with your heart (Kennedy Meeks, Lennie Rosenbluth)
- Elimination of racism (Donald Williams)
- Justice for all. It's not a political issue. It's a human right. (Raymond Felton)
In an exclusive interview, Montross expanded on what it means to recognize your privilege and provide allyship to those who don't look like him.
"It's been a very humbling experience over the past three months. To be a white male and to recognize the privilege that maybe I didn't quite recognize. It wasn't that I ever thought differently of someone whose skin color was different than me, but I maybe didn't have my eyes open as wide as I should have. What I have tried to do is to really approach this opportunity in our society and our world and our nation to read and understand the equality gaps, whether it's race or socioeconomic or gender. And really try and understand that."
"But all the time, recognize that a white male is someone who has a lot of privilege. And that's not a real comfortable feeling for me right now, because so many of my friends are not white men. And so many of my teammates are not white men. Many of the people I call my best teammates, and I call my best friends don't look like me. There are people who I deeply, deeply respect who don't look like me. I think that we just have an opportunity now as a nation and drill down to your household, neighborhood, community, state, and nation."
The former Tar Heel recognizes an opportunity for the world to do the impossible and stop the bleeding of a fellow man. The world doesn't have to continue its course concerning the racial injustice exhibited to black and brown people. We can change that.
"We have an opportunity. But you more we have a responsibility to do what so many pioneers have done before us, which is to stand up and not take inequality as an answer or something that we accept.
And that's hugely important. And it's something that today driving so many of us every day right now to make sure that that doesn't stay the same."
No, you can't do everything, but you can do something; Small changes equate to monumental movement. The simplicity in asking, "How can I help?" or "Where can I serve?" can do wonders in this battle.
It's going to take all of us. Right now.
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