For days, while other college football coaches publicized their support for social justice protestors, Sam Pittman stayed silent.
It’s not that the Arkansas head football coach didn’t agree with the sentiments of former Hog Butch Davis, A-State’s Blake Anderson or native Arkansan Eliah Drinkwitz.
It’s just that he felt action speaks louder than words.
So, on Tuesday night, he did what no active Razorback head football coach has ever done before: Join a civil rights protest.
Sam Pittman was one of about 3,000 people who peacefully gathered at the Fayetteville town square to voice their support for the Black Lives Matter movement that seeks to eliminate the racial targeting and police brutality that leads to deaths like that of former Minneapolis resident George Floyd.
Pittman invited his assistant coaches, too.
“I didn’t count the staff that went,” Pittman said today. “I asked if they wanted to go because I was going. I felt like I needed to go. In my heart, I wanted to go. I wanted to support our team and the protest.”
“I felt like, for me, the best way to address the situation was go be a part of what could be a solution. No other reason. I didn’t go down there for someone to take my picture. I wanted to support the players on our team and their families.”
Naturally, though, a picture was snagged anyway:
It was important for Pittman to do something for this movement which has the potential to reshape American society and law in ways few others have before them. While he hasn’t Tweeted anything about it, as peers like Les Miles, Lane Kiffin, Jimbo Fisher and former boss Kirby Smart have, he has now done something that would have been unimaginable for an Arkansas head football coach just a few years ago. Near the end of the protest, the attendees took a silent kneel for more than eight minutes in memory of Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
Action is “what I believe in,” Pittman added. “You can tweet about stuff, you can do a lot of things – take a picture to show someone – but actions are strong.”
“The people at the protest were awesome. I was proud I went.”
Fayetteville’s protest was a lot more peaceful than the one in Bentonville which sparked aggression by white supremacists and tear gassing:
More from Sam Pittman’s June 3 press conference:
The Hogs return to campus for voluntary workouts on June 8. Until the end of June, only strength and conditioning coaches can work directly with the players. Pittman and his staff can’t do their thing until July.
“That’s my whole life. That’s who I am. I’m a coach and it’s hard to coach when there’s nobody to coach. We’re all excited about it. We love the guys on our team and we want them back. We can’t wait for that to happen.”
He added there would be a potential OTA-like work in mid July: “We need terminology on the field. We need technique on the field. We don’t need tackling or anything like that. We’re just trying to learn. We need walk-throughs.”
Below see the entire presser, including Pittman’s discussion of former Hog coach Johnny Majors (who died), Rakeem Boyd and Catrell Wallace (who has been kicked off the team):
What other Hogs have spoken up?
Three and a half years ago, a group of Razorback women basketball players knelt during a pregame national anthem in Fayetteville. The Hogs’ head football coach, Bret Bielema, didn’t want part of this protest. He stayed silent.
Nor did some fans. They viewed the lady Razorbacks’ act, meant to draw attention to police brutality and social injustice, as a disgrace to the public university for which they played. Their silent protest sparked such a firestorm that some state representatives even wanted to cut funding to the University of Arkansas for letting it happen.
Now, what they were kneeling for is coming into sharper focus.
And major figures within the Razorback athletic program are sympathizing more than ever. Last weekend, a handful of former and current Hogs have spoken out in the aftermath of the widespread riots and protests that were sparked by the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.
Here are the two most high-profile:
Eric Musselman (head basketball coach)
“I’m deeply saddened by what’s going on in our country,” Musselman Tweeted. “We’ve had daily discussions in our household about what we can do to be a part of the change. I do not know what it’s like to be an African American man, but as a husband, father and coach, I believe that respect and love for one another is where things begin. We must fight racism together, and it needs to start right now.”
Hunter Yurachek (athletic director)
“…I am deeply saddened and troubled as I continue to attempt to comprehend the depth of the hurt and pain being felt by those throughout our nation,” Yurachek Tweeted. “In the past few weeks, the senseless and tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have served as vivid reminders of the continued reality of racism and social injustice faced by African-Americans every day in our society.
“Each of us shares a responsibility in addressing these issues and seeking to find resolution. Now more than ever, we must work together within our own communities to remove those strongholds.
“These are deeply rooted issues, embedded in our history, that will not be fully resolved in the days and months to come. However, today we can begin that journey anew by joining together to love and support each other while affirming our commitment to seek change and healing.”
Taliyah Brooks (former Razorback track star)
Please read ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/MWCGOfy1RN— Taliyah Brooks (@love_tbrooks) June 1, 2020
Moses Moody (Razorback freshman basketball player )
Moody, a blue-chip recruit in the class of 2020, starred for the No. 1 prep team in nation – Monteverde Academy in Florida.
The Little Rock native recently retweeted an impassioned speech he gave about racial targeting and mass incarceration in front of Monteverde students.
“I can’t change the station when I see my youth dying on TV. I got this deeper connection since they all look like me. I’m tired of seeing that the 5-0 [police] have murdered another unarmed black male,” Moody said in his senior year speech/poem, given in February 2020. “But I guess we’re always armed, because in their eyes, pigment is equivalent to a pistol. But I don’t feel like they’re bad people. I feel like they genuinely scared for their life.”
“Cinematography is used to paint my people in a bad light. But let me ask you all the question: ‘When you see me, what’s your first impression? Are you willing to learn this lesson or are you distracted by my complexion?’ An impoverished black male making his way out of the streets is equivalent to a flower blooming through the concrete.”
The sad fact is that sports stardom as a young man — or even lofty status as a Razorback — doesn’t mean Moses gets a pass on the same racial profiling his colleagues endure. Sports brings people together, but only momentarily:
R.I.P. George Floyd, who grew up in the Third Ward and played in the 1992 state championship football game for Jack Yates High School in the Astrodome. pic.twitter.com/AntAxVbp4c— Houstorian (@Houstorian) May 29, 2020
Moody, whose father Kareem has worked for decades with black men and police alike in in Little Rock, had an uncle who spent years in jail.
When sentenced, “he was headed to spending cold nights with straight killers,” Moody said. “I’m talking caged-up gorillas all fighting for one spot at the top. When he was inside I’m sure he had dreams and aspirations to change his situation, maybe even further his education, but when he finally got out, he can’t even leave his house.”
“The system creates this illusion, a lot of the confusion. And my uncle fell victim to the trap. Well, I’m sorry to say, I’m starting to believe the only way to make it out of struggle is put a ball in that hoop — or rap. It’s so hard to make it out.”
Moody brings up the story of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old who was killed by a neighborhood watchman in 2012.
“There’s just so many obstacles. Look at Trayvon. He made it through the thugs, drugs, robbing, and stealing, but he still fell short, because he didn’t know those thugs weren’t the only ones doing the killing.”
“But Trayvon Martin is not the only one. He’s just the one that everybody knows because that’s who everybody shows on the news. But the news is used to desensitize our eyes so we don’t cry no more when we see our people murdered in despair.”
As you can see below, Moody finishes on a positive note. He brings his story back around to himself and his attempt to become that single “flower busting through the concrete.”
More background on the kneeling Razorbacks of 2016: