GOSHEN — As protests continue nationwide surrounding the death of George Floyd, local sports coaches in the area hope their words can lead to change.
Goshen High School girls basketball coach Shaun Hill is one of few African-American head coaches in the area. While he’s in favor of the peaceful protests that have been going on, he understands why the looting and rioting are also happening across the country.
“I think part of the rioting and all of that is people feel like they’ve been peaceful and the elders have been peaceful with all of this going on and still haven’t seen change,” Hill said. “It’s kind of come to a head with things.”
Hill has thought about posting his thoughts on social media, but the layers of the situation surrounding Floyd’s death made him hesitant to do so.
“Even the people that side with Floyd, there’s two different extremes of feelings,” Hill said. “There’s those who want justice for what happened — that guy was a human being, and they want justice for that. And then there’s people that want justice for everything, like reform of the police department.”
Hill is more in favor of the latter of those two things. Systemic racism has been an issue that has affected the United States for centuries now, and Hill believes the power of voting can ultimately help fix the system.
“Stuff like police reform, that’s a topic that — or just reform of anything — that I think gets pushed to the forefront not as much,” Hill said. “Hopefully everyone went out and voted because I think … our votes help make more lasting changes.”
While writing strong words on social media helps the cause, Hill wants people to do more than that.
“I like that people are putting words out there, and hopefully it does affect change,” Hill said. “But I think we have to do some action, too.”
One person committed to acting on his words is Concord football coach Craig Koehler. On Sunday night, Koehler posted a collage of pictures of all the minority players and coaches on the upcoming 2020 Concord football team, along with their names and a post expressing his love for his players and staff.
“They are fathers, sons, and friends just like the white coaches and players in our program,” part of Koehler’s statement read. “We love them unconditionally just like the white players in our program. It is unethical, immoral, and criminal that they ever have to be in fear in this country because of the color of their skin. Enough is enough.”
Koehler was unsure where his voice was needed once the protests started, but as they progressed, he said he felt compelled to share something. He wanted to make it personal to his football team as well, hence why he tweeted about the players and coaches on the roster.
Before he tweeted, though, he talked to his two African-American assistant coaches — Kendrick Jordan and Micah Ware — to ask them if it was OK to post something about the ongoing protests.
“Their feedback to me was, ‘Coach, we just want you to stand with us and use your voice. You have a platform. That’s what we want from you.’ That was kind of the icing on the cake if that’s what I need to do, and I wanted to make it personal in terms of our kids,” Koehler said.
Koehler said he could feel the pain in the voices of his players and coaches when speaking to them. He hopes that he can do more than just speak to help them with the issues they face on a daily basis.
“The more you try to wrap your brain around that, the more you understand we have to do something different,” Koehler said. “If I can help in any way, shape, or form, I’m going to try and do my best.”
On the collegiate level, Goshen College women’s basketball coach Stephanie Miller penned a long statement on Twitter Sunday, expressing her concerns about the current situation.
“I see injustices happen in the world all around me,” part of Miller’s statement read. “I see people of color treated differently than those with white skin. I have seen unfair and unjustifiable treatment of humans on the basis of color, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, and several others. Americans must recognize, acknowledge, point out and take action against these acts when they see them happen.”
Once the protests of Floyd’s death started becoming a national story, Miller said she called all of her current and former players to talk to them about how they felt about the ongoing situation. It was through those talks that inspired Miller to share her thoughts.
Like with Hill and Koehler, though, Miller knows more than speaking words have to happen to fix the issues America is facing with racism.
“There has to be an action portion of this where leaders need to step up and lead from all different angles and make changes,” Miller said. “Like many people say, this is a systemic problem, and we need to recognize where in the system we’re having a breakdown and work to address those problems head-on.”
Miller said she’s already discussed with her coaching staff ways they can affect change, whether it be donating to a black rights organization or volunteering with one. She also acknowledged that this isn’t an issue that can be solved overnight.
“I think you work at something like this,” Miller said. “I think you commit to something like this. I think you gain knowledge and work to improve something like this because it’s such a deep-rooted, widespread problem. What we need to do is be better.”