Well, this is rich.
Bobby Petrino, the same coach who while at Arkansas never seemed to give a flip about players’ personal lives while only caring about wins and blondes, has decided that he’s going to give himself whiplash yet again — this time by braking hard on who he’s been for decades and deciding it’s time to speak up for issues of racial equality and social justice.
After flaming out at Arkansas and Louisville, the 59-year-old is now on his 15th redemption tour. These days, that’s in Springfield, Mo., where he’s trying to build the hapless Missouri State Bears into a mid-major power.
Part of that is allowing his players to call the shots. On Thursday, they chose not to practice to show solidarity with professional athletes across multiple sports who have gone on a “strike” in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The goal is to raise awareness of issues involving racism and police brutality and use that awareness as leverage toward actual change down the road.
In response, Bobby Petrino tweeted Thursday night: “I respect my players’ decision to not practice today. Our staff and players are united as we continue to fight for racial equality.”
Petrino allowing his players to dictate when practice happens would have been unimaginable ten years ago when he was pushing Arkansas to the brink of SEC power status. And, before this summer, there’s little evidence he’s ever cared enough about political or social justice issues to speak out in public.
But, nowadays, Petrino is a changed man.
In his last tenure at Louisville, he started to care enough about off-the-field issues to help start the Petrino Family Foundation, and now he’s willing to speak out on racial issues in large part because of his grandchildren.
Petrino’s daughter, Kelsey, is married to L.D. Scott, an African-American assistant coach at Missouri State. At Arkansas, Scott worked for Petrino in 2011 as an intern working with the defensive tackles. In 2012, under John L. Smith, he moved to a graduate assistant role working with the defensive line. Later, as seems to be the habit with Petrino family members, he worked for Bobby in Louisville.
Kelsey and L.D. have four biracial children: Brianna, Braylon, Emmett, and Anissa.
Being around them has changed the Montana native’s perspective, it seems. “I have seen racism,” Petrino told the Springfield News-Leader in June. “My daughter having mixed children, I’ve seen hate letters and have had them sent to me. It’s ugly and it’s something that shouldn’t exist but it does.”
That why’s Petrino Tweeted this earlier in the summer:
In the wake of the George Floyd shooting and ensuing protests, Petrino held a long team meeting to hear about these issues from his own players and presumably share his own insight.
Meanwhile, the Arkansas athletic program is taking steps of its own. Sam Pittman attended a Black Lives Matter protest, and just this week announced the launch of a new collaborative program, Hogs United, to promote education, advocacy and action “in areas of diversity and inclusive excellence.”
Part of that mission entails resources like the following books:
Who knows if Petrino is authentic or not when it comes to being a social justice advocate. Some fans may reflexively think he’s full of it — yet again — but perhaps his closeness to the issue means he actually cares this time around.
Most Arkansas fans — and Atlanta Falcons fans and Louisville Cardinals fans to boot — know Petrino too well to think he has turned some new leaf altogether.
But if this does herald the start of a new, more compassionate Bobby Petrino, there are far worse things to evolve into.
Some people, like Brian Urlacher, think these practice and game sit- outs are ridiculous:
More about Petrino and his upcoming game at UCA here:
My book about Arkansas sports history and race relations: