SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly wishes he could’ve been doing more.
“I’ve ran a foundation (Kelly Cares) for the last 10 years that has made incredible change and affected hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people’s lives in a positive way. And I sit here now and I look at our country and see the systemic, cultural racism that is still there, and I feel like I missed it,” Kelly acknowledged on a media Zoom call Tuesday. “If I could’ve been focused on something that’s still there, I could’ve made a difference.”
Kelly plans on changing that.
Over the past two weeks, Kelly has talked with his players, coaches and staff about the killing of George Floyd, which has sparked national discussion about racial inequality and led to protests all across the country. Kelly has allowed his players and staff to use the social media platform Notre Dame has to voice their opinions on the matter at hand.
“We spoke last Monday at a full team meeting,” Kelly said. “We’ve also had unit meetings regarding a very difficult topic, for especially white men to talk about, and that is racism. It needed to be addressed. The first thing is our players needed to be heard. There was anger. There was confusion. They needed to talk, and we were able to allow our players to also have a platform through using our social media platform to be heard.”
Numerous athletes have used the platform to share their messages. Graduate senior Daelin Hayes wrote a lengthy message about the struggles he’s faced being a black man in America.
“FEAR. That was the only emotion I felt when I first saw yet another viral video of an African American citizen being senselessly murdered in broad daylight,” Hayes’ statement started, referencing the Floyd video. “Fear that when people see me, they don’t see someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s teammate … they see a threat. I am stripped of my identity and instead reduced down to the color of my skin.”
Redshirt sophomore Braden Lenzy authored a letter as well, calling for action to take place in order to fix the problems America has when dealing with race.
“We have come to a point in time where silence is no longer acceptable,” Lenzy’s letter said. “The hashtags will no longer cut it. The police brutality that we have endured for my entire life must come to a stop. No one man or woman was created above the other, and it’s time our nation reflects that.”
Incoming freshman defensive end Alexander Ehrensberger, who’s from Germany, even chimed in his thoughts.
“I’m not black, and I don’t claim to know what it means to be black. But I am sad, disappointed, and appalled,” Ehrensberger’s statement read. “There should be no place in this world for prejudice, injustice or discrimination. To my black brothers and sisters, I want you to know that I stand by you. We all deserve to be treated equally with respect and love. We are all humans – we are all one.”
Multiple players attended a Black Lives Matter rally in Atlanta last week as well, including safety Kyle Hamilton, running back Mick Assaf and defensive back KJ Wallace.
The way his players have handled the ongoing discussion about racial inequality in America hasn’t surprised Kelly.
“They’re articulate in their message. They’re thoughtful,” Kelly said. “They have passed through all of the filters of response, and so I felt comfortable … that we could immediately open up our platforms to our players.”
In light of the response from his players and staff, Kelly has started forming a unity council within the program. The purpose of the council is to bring people together to bring up issues regarding race and inequality. Kelly said it will start just within the program and include people from all roles, not just the players.
“We’re going to have a cross-section — male, female, African-American, black, white, Hispanic,” Kelly said. “We think it really needs to be a great cross-section … to really do some really neat things.”
The plan for the unity council is to start with any issues in the locker room before seeing what impact the program can have on campus, in the local community or even nationally.
“Being heard and having a vocal part of it is one thing, but we’ve got to be actionable. … It’s one thing to talk about it — and you have to talk about it, you have to be heard — but it has to be actionable, too,” Kelly said.