by Jimmy Friday
I am a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and was a student-athlete on the football team for four seasons, from 1995 until 1999. Two of those seasons, Lou Holtz was the head coach. In January of 1995, Lou Holtz came to my home and gave a speech about Trust, Commitment, and Love. That speech had the same outline as the speech he recently gave at the RNC in support of a president whose policies and rhetoric have hurt many of us and in judgement of anyone that disagreed with him. I am extremely disappointed in the theme and tone of his address, especially considering it took place only days after another recent police shooting of a black man who did not deserve it. The callousness of his speech ignored the everyday challenges encountered by many of his former players, the very players who have contributed, in part, to his success as a head football coach.
Of course it is within his rights to support the candidate of his choice for whatever reasons he feels are appropriate, and he used his platform to do that. As such, it is well within my rights to use any platform and voice that I have to express my disdain for the tone of his speech.
On the eve of his speech, there were a number of issues affecting millions of Americans including, a global pandemic, California fires, a catastrophic hurricane, and a racial reckoning in this country confronting social injustice and systematic racism. Surprisingly, none of these were referenced in a speech about trust, commitment, and love. Further, he neglected to mention any of the grave offenses committed by the person he supports. Throughout my time as a student-athlete at Notre Dame, we were constantly reminded of trust, commitment, and love for one another (principles also outlined on his statue at the university). These teachings have stayed with me over the years and I have applied them to both my personal and professional lives. Failure to mention any of the current issues and how it’s affected us while being critical of those that disagree with him is a failure to show the trust, commitment, and love that he was speaking about.
As a father to two young black boys, I want to instill in them these very principles:
Trust: Can I trust you to always do the right thing? Even if it means stepping away from what may be best for you and stepping to what’s best (or right) for others.
Commitment: Are you dedicated to doing what’s right, no matter how hard it is, and seeing it to completion?
Love: How does your trust and commitment manifest itself in how you treat other people? Do you judge them? Or do you listen and show compassion and understanding that their situation and circumstances are unique?
Ahmaud Arbery was murdered on February 23rd.
Breonna Taylor was murdered (yes, she was murdered) on March 13th.
George Floyd was murdered on May 25th of this year.
(My sincere apologies and condolences to not only these families but the countless others that I failed to mention because of the sheer volume of how many of US have been killed)
After George Floyd was taken from us, it was supposed to be different this time. There were so many that said:
-”I need to do more.”
-”I need to speak out when something is happening.”
-”I’m going to use my privilege to speak for those that don’t have that same privilege.”
Then Jacob Blake was shot on August 23rd, in front of his children, and may never walk again.
…And (allegedly) a vigilante killed two peaceful protestors in Kenosha, WI and was able to remain in close proximity to law enforcement with his firearm without being stopped or questioned.
In the midst of a national reckoning of race, and on the heels of that recent incident, Coach decides he wants to use his platform to:
Support someone who “plays nice in the sandbox” with racists and white supremacists for the position of the highest office in the land.
Uses a political soapbox to judge those that disagree with him as either religiously insufficient (“Catholic in name only…”) or not having pride in themselves or their country.
Things were supposed to change. They were supposed to be different this time. There were company meetings, zoom calls, non-POC speaking out…forcing the change, and showing that trust, love, and commitment to take us all to a better place, not just a few of us, but all of us. There was “something in the air” that felt like things were really going to change this time (and i still have no doubt that they will, for the better).
However, despite the conversations (including cases where Coach has perceivably shown concern for social issues affecting POC), he chose to take a tone in this speech that came across as tone deaf and a slap in the face to challenges that myself (and other black players that have contributed to his success) have faced for a lifetime. Further, there was an allusion in his speech to protesters (peaceful), professors, and others that if they were not in agreement with 45, they were not committed (i.e. blaming others, “don’t have pride in our country”). He further suggests that anyone that falls in that group is only asking “what can the country do for me” and not “what can I do for my country”.
Let me respond to that directly. What can I do for my country, Coach?
I will treat everyone with the same level of understanding without judgement, even if they do not agree with me.
I will also teach my children the same.
I will continue to push my country to a place where systematic racism and social injustice do not have a safe space.
I will continue to push my country to a place where racists do not have allies in our elected officials.
I will continue to push my country to a place where laws and policies designed to punish those that are different are unacceptable.
I will continue to push my country to a place where systematic racism does not prevent POC from being successful (yes we succeed “in spite of” but don’t look down on or blame others that do not).
Finally, Coach ended his speech asking “what would happen if you didn’t show up?”. Instead of focusing on what would happen if you don’t show up, let’s focus on showing up and contributing to leaving things better than they were when we found it. That is, if you do show up, what will be better solely because YOU showed up.
That’s my plan.
The plan is infallible.
The plan shows Trust, Commitment, and most importantly… Love.
Photograph taken on North Capitol Street, Washington, D.C. July, 2020, by Joseph Ross