Paul Chryst has been doing more listening than he’s accustomed to during team meetings lately.
The University of Wisconsin football coach said Friday during a news teleconference that it’s unfortunate the conversations regarding racial inequality he’s had with his players aren’t the first. But events of the past number of months — such as the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery — sparked more discussions about race and its role in our society.
Chryst said he’s appreciated the openness and willingness to learn his players have shown during these discussions, but acknowledged that education alone isn’t enough.
“We all want to do more than just that, we want to be able to impact, make a difference in our own way,” Chryst said. “A lot of our conversations have talked about starting inside and working out. What does each and every one of us need to do, having an honest self-reflection and affecting those around us.”
Chryst spoke with media members Friday morning as college football is experiencing a heightened awareness to racial issues.
Longtime strength coach Chris Doyle left Iowa’s program Monday after former players alleged Doyle made racially insensitive remarks to them while they were part of the program. Oklahoma State players, led by star running back Chuba Hubbard, publicly challenged coach Mike Gundy for wearing a T-shirt with a logo of One America News Network, a far-right cable channel. Gundy is also under fire for his alleged use of a racial slur during a game when he was the OSU quarterback in 1989.
Chryst said he’s learned the importance of keeping an open dialogue from a lifetime in the sport.
“The conversations are good because you gain an understanding, and each time it’s a different person, a different voice, you can get a different perspective. Doesn’t matter what their background is, everyone’s experience is different, and therefore their view may be different,” he said. “I think that what’s empowering is that everyone’s voice really matters, especially in the confines we’re talking about, in our locker room, in our staff room, in our team room.”
UW senior safety Madison Cone is one of four university representatives in the Big Ten Anti-Hate, Anti-Racism Coalition. He said he’s spoken with Chryst on racial issues through his Badgers career, and knows Chryst wants to help make a difference.
“Coach Chryst is one of those guys, ever since I met him, he’s a pretty open-minded guy. So when it comes to stuff like this, he understands where he stands and he’s asked me questions because he knows there are certain things that he can’t relate to personally or directly,” Cone said.
“The one thing I really admire about him is how open-minded he is and how much he’s willing to listen. And then from there, after we’ve had the conversation he sees where stuff is. The conversation is now, ‘What can we do to make that better? I see how you feel, I see what you’re saying, so how can we push stuff forward?’”
One request student-athletes have made to UW is to allow a university crest with a black ‘W’ to be worn on athletes’ uniforms this season. A petition on social media showed an image of what the crest would look like on the back of a football helmet. Cone and other football players, along with other UW student-athletes have shared the request online.
Chryst said he’s in support of the idea.
“I think anytime that you get something coming from all of your student-athletes, there is no question that this is important. It’s important to us all. I personally love it when it comes from the student-athletes. It’s powerful,” he said. “I saw Faion (Hicks) posted something. I love Faion Hicks. That’s powerful to me if he’s behind it. I’ve had conversations with Faion, I know his heart, I know what he’s thinking. Those can be really good things.”
A number of Chryst’s players have been active on social media sharing messages about police brutality and racial injustice. He said he talks with players about ensuring they’re comfortable using their platforms and not being pushed from the outside to do so.
“I think that’s part of college, right? You come to college and there’s a lot of things going on, a lot of really good things going on. Part of it is getting exposed to different things and then kind of formulating your beliefs. Then it’s how do you express your beliefs, and how do you do that in a way that fits you and a way that represents you the way you want to be represented,” he said.
“I think that’s part of the growth, and to me, that’s a big part of this for our program. Nothing matters more than our players and it’s our players’ growth — growth as football players, certainly, but growth as students, growth as people. And to see them growing and to see them finding ways to feel comfortable with what their beliefs are and how to express those beliefs, I think those are some of the really good things that we get to be around coaching young men at this point in their life.”
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