Dwayne Killings was at home like the rest of us, watching televised protests in response to the killing of George Floyd, feeling moved to try to make an impact in whatever way his platform of being a coach in the Big East might allow. So the Marquette assistant picked up his phone and called Villanova assistant Kyle Neptune to bounce around some ideas. Killings’ next call was to UConn assistant Kimani Young.
Before long, a Zoom meeting was organized.
“And it was awesome,” Killings recalled. “The Zoom started popping up, and all of a sudden you saw 18 minority coaches — and everybody was passionate. Everybody wanted to try to find some direction to try to create some level of impact.”
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The byproduct of that is this: Coaches For Action.
It’s an organization founded this month featuring 21 minority assistants from the Big East, at least one from each of the 11 member institutions, who share a mission to use their platforms of athletics to educate and bring awareness to social injustices. They have met virtually many times, received blessings from their various head coaches and athletic directors, and already identified three main initiatives.
The initiatives are:
Educate players, fellow coaches and people in Big East communities on the importance of voting in both local and national elections. CFA is calling on each Big East program to host a voter registration drive in early October. Create a scholarship fund to assist first-generation minority students with at least a 3.0 GPA who elect to attend a Big East school. Each CFA member has already committed to a monetary donation, and they will lobby their head coaches (and donors with whom they have relationships) to also contribute.Support the Black Lives Matter movement by placing Black Lives Matter patches on each home and away jersey of every men’s basketball player in the Big East. Additionally, Big East coaches will wear Black Lives Matter pins.
The initiatives were recently presented to Big East commissioner Val Ackerman and senior associate commissioner Stu Jackson. “And they supported all of our initiatives,” Killings said.
As a result, yes, the Big East is in the process of finalizing plans to have Black Lives Matter patches on the uniforms of all of its men’s basketball teams for the 2020-21 season. The Big East probably won’t be the only conference to commit to the act. But, notably, it is the first. And that’s something meaningful.
“The most important thing about it is that it gives our players a voice because I’m sure all of our players are frustrated, disappointed and confused [in light of Floyd’s death],” Young said. “They don’t know what to do. And I think something like that [Black Lives Matter patch] unifies all of them and lets them feel proud about doing something that’s going to keep the conversation going, keep the momentum and draw attention to the movement.”
Added Providence assistant Ivan Thomas: “We want to give our players an avenue to express themselves and also protest what’s going on in our country. We want to teach our players to use their power.”
To a man, each CFA member I spoke with expressed incredible gratitude to their head coaches, athletic directors and the people in the Big East office who never tried to slow them down but instead encouraged them to think big and move forward. It’s another example of how our country really is in a different place right now and seemingly more motivated than ever, in big numbers and diverse ways, to tackle the issue of racism head on while making tangible changes that double as meaningful progress.
“There is overwhelming support from each program, and that says a lot about the schools in our league,” Neptune said. “They’ve rallied around this cause, and I think it’s going to take off.”