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Black coaches at Xavier University want to be leaders, teachers in fight against systemic racism

Posted at 5:54 PM, Jun 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-29 18:47:00-04

CINCINNATI — It didn’t take long for Ben Johnson to know he’d seen enough.

When you’ve watched it happen for 30 years, sometimes a minute longer is too much.

“When I got wind of the George Floyd video, I stopped it before, probably, a minute in. I wasn't ready to watch it,” said Johnson, a men’s basketball assistant coach at Xavier University.

Johnson didn't know George Floyd, but he was familiar with the street where his body lay.

“I grew up in south Minneapolis,” he said. “I'm very familiar with where exactly that took place.”

Johnson decided he had watched enough. It was time to act, and he wouldn't have to do it alone.

Calling themselves the "Coaches for Action," 21 minority assistant coaches from each of the Big East men's basketball programs teamed up to devise a three-point call-to-action plan to address systemic racism in the world of college athletics.

First, they want to improve voting awareness for their players and communities.

“We’re coaches, but we’re also teachers,” Johnson said. “We’re going to educate these guys and make sure they go into the voting booths educated. For all of us, myself included, the more we take the time to understand the policies we’re voting on that can affect you positively and negatively.”

Second, the coaches are each donating $300 to establish a scholarship fund for a first-generation minority student.

Dante Jackson, a former player who now is also an assistant at Xavier, was also on the call that put the coaches all on the same team, along with Musketeer assistant Jonas Hayes.

“We’ve seen enough of these instances where nothing has been done or not enough has been done,” Jackson said.

“It was surreal,” Hayes added. “Despite our differences, despite our competitive nature to win at all costs, we all have one common thread that we’re all people of color. And at some point and time in our lives we've been placed in a situation where we were demeaned, felt less than. If we don't come together for ourselves, who's going to step up for us?”

The third initiative, Jackson admits, will likely be met with some backlash — getting each of the member schools to wear “Black Lives Matter” patches on their jerseys. But he believes there’s no better place to begin the fight against systemic racism than at home at the Cintas Center.

“We have the best fans in the country,” Jackson said. “My hope is they understand this is bigger than basketball. We want as many people in this fight as we can get.”

Hayes said the group will be seen and heard from this point forward.

“We're not going to shut up. We're not going to hide behind a rock or a tree. We're going to bring awareness to this thing. And we're going to bring solidarity to this thing. We aren't going anywhere,” Hayes said.

It's time for action, said Johnson.

“(The George Floyd video) was tough to watch, obviously a lot of pain, not just that video but any kind of injustice that you see in your own community,” Johnson said. “Only positive is it's that final straw that broke the camel's back.”