Florida Gators’ Dan Mullen gives powerful statement on racial justice

Mullen and a lot of his roster participated in a Gainesville march Friday on racial justice.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen, left, stands with running back Lamical Perine (2) after the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Virginia, Dec. 30, 2019, in Miami Gardens.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen, left, stands with running back Lamical Perine (2) after the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Virginia, Dec. 30, 2019, in Miami Gardens. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Aug. 29, 2020|Updated Aug. 29, 2020

Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen and many of his players participated in a Gainesville march on racial justice Friday.

Mullen has been upfront about how his experiences as a white man have been different than those of his players, especially ones who are Black. That’s why he has stressed the importance of educating yourself and others as the country reckons with the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wis.

Related: How the Florida Gators addressed the Jacob Blake shooting

In a Zoom session with reporters Saturday, he gave a long, thoughtful answer on the protest and the emotions and tensions that led to it:

“I tell our team this: I can’t put myself in their shoes. When I went out and got in a car when I was 19 years old and went out with my friends at night, I wasn’t worried about being pulled over unless I was doing something incredibly wrong. … If I was pulled over, I was worried about maybe what sort of discipline structure I might get in.

“I go out and I run at 6 a.m. I’m probably more worried if I get into a really dark area of the run or one of those, is there some kind of lunatic, psychopath, serial killer around? Not, I’m running through a neighborhood and people might profile me that I don’t belong there. I can’t even fathom what that feels like or to understand. But if you stop for a minute and think about how that would feel. ...

“My son’s 11, so a couple years from now he’s going to go out with his friends and get in a car and go out on Friday night with his friends. So I’m hoping they don’t do stupid things, they make smart decisions, they’re safe and I’m kind of worried they don’t get a car accident or one of those. I’m not worried about, is someone going to pull them over for the way they look? And maybe treat them poorly, and profile them. I think you’ve got to put people in those shoes.

“If you just stop and really think and try to respect other people, and respect what their thoughts are. I’ve done police ride-alongs, but I’ll be honest with you: I’ve never pulled somebody over and had to walk up to that window and had no idea who’s on the other side of that car. I’ve never done that, but if everybody can stop and think about for just a second … where they’re coming from.

Related: NBA players make loud statement by turning down the volume

“You can’t put yourself in their shoes, okay? But if you try to listen, you try to understand, and you try to have respect for them, we’re going to get ourselves headed in the right direction. And to become part of that, you have to put some of yourself aside, okay? You have to put some of yourself aside. You have to get out of the extreme-isms. And that’s what (the march) was for.

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“I’m trying to be around our guys. I’m trying to listen. I’m trying to see where they’re coming from. I’m trying to see what their thoughts are and what their feelings are and how I can best help them and how I can best help myself, how I can educate myself to be smarter on all the different things that we’re dealing with in society, because you know as the coach I’m responsible for these young guys. I’m responsible to help develop them as football players to men. Okay? But if I don’t understand and I don’t educate myself on everything that’s going on, and I don’t try to better myself every day, how can I help them? And we have this huge voice because you know what, we have the opportunity to go out and help other people.

“It certainly is not an easy deal at all. But I’m going to share with each one of us, each one of you, tell me tell me what you’re doing today to make a difference to one person, try to try to make one person better today. Try to make one person a better person today. And if you can do that, we’re headed in the right direction.”