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Bruce Arians: ‘You would hope as a nation to have grown. ... We have, but not enough, obviously’

The Bucs coach said he’s looking for more ways to help and encourages people to remain passionate even when the protests are over.
Bruce Arians has used his authority as a coach to trumpet diversity, and his coaching staff is the only one in the NFL to have three black coordinators.
Bruce Arians has used his authority as a coach to trumpet diversity, and his coaching staff is the only one in the NFL to have three black coordinators. [ JAMES KENNEY | AP ]
Published Jun. 4, 2020|Updated Jun. 5, 2020

TAMPA — Over the past several days, Bucs coach Bruce Arians has had to ask himself: How far have we really come?

Seeing America enveloped in racial tension again — this time sparked by the death of a black man while in police custody, a white officer’s knee on the back of his neck, the encounter caught on cellphone cameras — Arians, one of the NFL’s most vocal proponents of diversity and inclusion, says he can’t help but think back to the late 1960s.

That’s when, as a teenager in York, Pa., he watched National Guard tanks roll through the streets during race riots that swallowed the town in the summers of 1968 and ’69.

“There are times when I think we haven’t made any progress,” Arians said Thursday on a conference call with local media. “What’s really improved since then? But a lot has.”

Just not enough, he said.

Related: Bucs players will return to team facilities later than anticipated

“It’s very disheartening,” Arians said. “Growing up in it and being a part of it, personally, you would hope that we would not be in 2020 still dealing with these issues. You would hope as a nation to have grown since 1968. I think we have, but not enough, obviously.”

Arians, a white man whose closest friends growing up were black, graduated from a city high school in York. As a college quarterback at Virginia Tech, he was the first white player to room with a black teammate.

He has used his authority as a coach to trumpet diversity, and his coaching staff is the only one in the NFL to have three black coordinators. Though nearly 70 percent of the NFL’s players are black, the league has just four minority head coaches and two black general managers.

Bucs coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich look to get on a roll in the second half of the 2019 season.
Bucs coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich look to get on a roll in the second half of the 2019 season. [ SCOTT EKLUND | AP ]

Arians called the death of George Floyd, the 46-year-old Minneapolis man who died in police custody last week, “sickening.” He is also disturbed by the February death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, a black man shot to death by two white men while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood, and the March death of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, a black woman shot to death in her home by police in Louisville.

“We all know when we see something that’s horrific and wrong,” Arians said. “And the events, especially the last three events, they’re wrong. They’re murders. Hopefully, justice will be served quickly.”

Arians, 67, said he supports the protests urging systematic change and police reform but it’s important people remain as passionate about their causes after the demonstrations stop.

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“I think right now, I love the fact that people are upset and they’re raising their voices, but don’t stop,” he said. “It’s one thing to march and protest. It’s another thing to take action. And when the protesting is over, I’d urge everybody to take action. Do something positive to help the situation. Just don’t go back to being silent, because then it’s going to happen again.”

Related: Carlton Davis, Tom Brady, other Bucs react to George Floyd’s death, weekend of protests

Looking to see what more he could do, Arians said he joined Campaign Zero, an organization dedicated to police reform, and encouraged his players to do so as well.

Arians said he has talked to players about what’s going on, but because interaction is limited to virtual meetings due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s not the same as talking face-to-face. He said the team’s Social Justice Initiative, which is led by Carlton Davis, Ali Marpet, Bradley Pinion and Donovan Smith, is discussing what Bucs players can do to help.

“Hopefully, when we get back together, we will have some answers on what we can do to continue to improve the situation,” Arians said.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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