For a while there, it seemed scandal would rule the day. A college football coach possibly fibbed, a player publicly challenged him, and the slur-mongers descended online.
Then a strange thing happened. Anger was replaced by inspiration, and every bit of oxygen was squeezed from scandal’s flame.
And all it took was one young man with enough hope to make us all pay attention.
“Being a man of color," Florida State football player Marvin Wilson explained on Instagram, “I want to be that change."
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Took a stand we got what we wanted & we are moving forward 🗣!!! I appreciate @coachnorvell for encouraging me to use my platform and speak for what me and teammates believe in. Be the change that you need when you was growing up and help build black communities up and take back what is ours
In an era of widespread protesting, this is an example of precise and constructive results. And, depending on your level of skepticism, maybe a cautionary tale about honesty.
It all began with hardly anyone paying attention. A reporter from The Athletic posted a quote from new FSU football coach Mike Norvell on Tuesday that seemed to suggest he had personally communicated with every player about the nationwide protests over George Floyd’s death.
A day later, Wilson angrily responded on Twitter that Norvell did not have one-on-one conversations and instead texted the equivalent of a form letter to every player. Wilson called the coach’s statement “a lie" and suggested that his teammates would join him in a boycott of optional workouts.
The implication was that Norvell was trying to make himself sound more empathetic than he had been.
Accordingly, things got ugly in a hurry. There were suggestions that Norvell be fired or, better yet, resign in shame. There were accusations that the reporter made up the quote, even though no one from FSU, Norvell included, had ever suggested it wasn’t accurate.
So while social media was debating his integrity and fate, Norvell called a team meeting Thursday morning. A little while later, Wilson posted a message on Instagram:
“Took a stand we got what we wanted & we are moving forward!!! I appreciate coach Norvell for encouraging me to use my platform and speak for what me and teammates believe in."
Wilson, who would likely have been a first-round draft pick but chose to return to FSU for his senior season, went on to explain in a video that FSU players had all agreed to register to vote and encouraged others to do the same. He said the team would take part in fundraisers to raise money for black students to attend college, and vowed to help children in poverty around Tallahassee.
“You’ve got fifth-grade kids taking care of their first- and second-grade little brothers or sisters," Wilson said. “Their momma’s out working all night long trying to provide, to keep the lights on at night."
And with one brief Instagram video, Wilson had hit on the kind of messages that have been neglected in demonstrations that have occasionally surrendered their impact to chaos.
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The Floyd protests have rightfully shined a light on systemic racism, but seemingly have ignored generational poverty and the public policies that have done little to address their root causes.
For his part, Norvell acknowledged in a statement that he used imprecise words in describing his communications with players. Considering the sweeping eloquence of that original statement, it’s a bit of a stretch to think Norvell didn’t recognize he was making himself sound more heroic than justified.
And, yet, that doesn’t seem to matter today. Norvell apologized, and Wilson took advantage of the attention to highlight something far more important than self-aggrandizing.
Will it matter?
That remains to be seen. The coronavirus has left tens of millions unemployed, and that means poverty likely will get worse before it gets better. There’s also four months between now and the next election, and that’s a long time for passions to remain elevated.
If nothing else, however, Wilson has taught us a lesson.
There’s nothing wrong with anger. There’s nothing wrong with protest. And there’s nothing wrong with publicly pointing out mistakes or sins of those in power.
But simply rampaging across social media isn’t enough. If we want to help and if we want to fix things, then, like Marvin Wilson, we need to be that change.