Florida Gators Dan Mullen on Racial Injustice, Social Unrest and How His Team Reacts to Both

As a journalist, I work in words. They are my craft and my career. But there are moments the words don’t reach. And even in attempting to apply them to situations, my words are pointless. Florida Gators Head Coach Dan Mullen spoke with local media today. It was intended as a (virtual) press conference on fall camp the day before a scrimmage. Instead, Mullen spent a large majority of the time to apply 1,978 words on social injustice, civil unrest and how he and his team are navigating it from their position.

With that in mind, we yield the floor to Mullen. Here is everything he had to say today on the subject.

Have you spoken to team about Jacob Blake's shooting, and how does it affect you?

"Well I think, yes, we've talked about it as a team. You know, it's stuff we've talked about in the past, even before this. We talked about it today as a team. How it affects me personally, I think one of the things that I look at, is, to me, a shame is, you look at a football team. How that football team works and the respect that everyone has for each other when they're on a team, it's a pretty special deal. You know, I don't think people get as, maybe, when you're in a locker room or on the field, within the players and teams I've been on, you know look at out team here, we talked about this today. You see guys that have a lot of respect for each other, and they're less concerned about where you're from, what religion you are, what your socio-economic or racial backgrounds are. Very concerned about you go hard and do things the right way, and guys go hard, try their best to do things the right way, and everybody's different talent levels. You know, if you do that, you have great respect for all your teammates. So look at that, I do see, I see, I think, you know, I mean one of the hard things is the world, you turn on any news channel, and its extremes, right? And I don't know that we're in extremes, I think a lot of people are probably in the middle, but I think a lot of people maybe are ignorant about a lot of things that go on. A lot of people get extremely emotional about things that go on, which, and they are very emotional things, but I think it's really important that people educate themselves. You know, there's a lot of ignorance in the world. That doesn't mean, being ignorant, people don't look at people and say 'This person is a good person or a bad person,' there's good, there's bad people in the world. There are a lot of bad people in the world. There's also a lot of ignorant people in the world and one of the best things we can do is try to educate ignorant people, best thing you can do is try to educate yourself and try to understand other people, and try to become educated. The best way to respect somebody is to try to educate yourself about them, and if you do that, you have a chance of spreading a positive message. Spreading a great message of respect and love to other people in the world more than kind of hatred, ignorance, or those type of things, and I think it is... Those are obviously terrible, scary things and you know what I’ve never been in that situation, thankfully. I hope I never am and I think it’s terrible that people that are in those situations are even in them. I think the better we can educate ourselves the better off we’ll be.”

How can you educate those people?

“I can’t, I don’t want to speak for all of our student-athletes but I can speak for me. I think we talk about them and I’m sure, they speak for themselves and we encourage them to do that. We encourage them to, we have a great platform, we have a platform just by the world we’re in. We can help people better understand things. We can help people by trying to become educated about other people, to try to learn about other people, to try to learn about other people’s backgrounds, to try to learn and respect other people’s backgrounds and not just draw assumptions. It’s really hard to do. Change is uncomfortable for a lot of people. Change is really uncomfortable, I don’t want to change, I like what I have. To change I have to get outside my comfort zone and change is extremely uncomfortable. People have to try to get a little uncomfortable and people to have to try to go learn about other people. Go expand your horizons. Go expand what it is. Don’t just look at something and judge other people or don’t look at someone who is different than you and judge them, go learn about everything. I’ve become very educated over the last couple of months. You know what, I would probably look at things and then go form an opinion. Now I look back and I’ve changed my opinions on a lot of things. What it’s taught me is to be very cautious. When something happens you’re going to form an automatic opinion but the smart thing to do is educate yourself and make sure your opinion is well thought of and why you would do what you would do or why you believe in what you believe and challenge yourself to think about those things. In every aspect of life.”

What’s an example of change you have made?

“I think just in little things. You look, right, and one thing, you just read, there was great little thing I just read just to make you think, is when Black Lives Matter comes out and people want to fight and say All Lives Matter and, you know, right? You look at that and say OK, I can see how that makes sense, and then you go educate yourself and go back and think about different things. Someone wrote an article, I don’t know, I saw somewhere where the Boston Marathon bombing came out, oh the Boston Strong shirts came out, right, well, why isn’t everybody strong, why does it only get to be Boston that gets to be strong, right? When you think about to me in the terms of that, where it does, of course all live do matter, but that’s not what we’re talking about right now. We’re talking about this specific situation where we’re seeing racial injustice has happened and we’re trying to draw light to that. We’re not saying other things aren’t important, we’re trying to draw light to this. When you can draw on things from a lot of examples, like people all the sudden want to jump and say Ok, well what about this, I have to be on a side, no, just educate yourself. We’re trying to do is educate ourselves about the social injustices happening. It doesn’t mean, when you say Black Lives Matter it doesn’t mean I’m forgetting about other people. It means I’m focusing on the social injustice issues that we currently have in our country and let’s focus on that. That’s what it pays attention to. Maybe instead of people jump to other conclusions. It was a really educational thing to think about and really a different way to think for me when you do it is making sure what is the message trying to get across here.”

Did your guys discuss not practicing?

"No. I mean our guys love football, they want to play football. I think, you know, that's something that, right? I mean, our guys love playing football and so I think they like to play football. Now they have a great opportunity right now, a lot of time to use their platform and do other things, and we discuss that outside of football. I think our guys, they really enjoy being out there practicing, getting ready for a football season. But I think they're very conscious about using the platform that they have to do it. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. But we had a great discussion about it after practice, great discussion about everything, after practice. And I think we'll still have more. We've had some in the past, we had some today. We need to have more. We've got to find even better ways to do it, have good discussions within our team on things moving forward. But I don't think it ever crossed over, that football is kind of its own deal. Football practice is its own deal, that's a separate entity."

Are players more distant with everything going on?

"Well, I think it's been going on for a while. I think, I don't know, me personally, I've always felt the football field is a very safe place for guys. That's kind of their safe place is when we're out there doing football and playing football. You are kind of away from the rest of the world, so I do think a lot of the issues maybe come outside of that when we're not doing our football time. That's not something I've noticed over the last couple of weeks, that's something I've noticed since I've been coaching. There's all kinds of things that have happened throughout my time coaching. This isn't the first time we've dealt with, I mean first time we've dealt with a major pandemic, but there's all kinds of different situations and things that happen within teams, within programs and in the community and all that stuff. I've always felt football is kind of a safe place.”

When Mohamoud Diabate came in players said it changed their mind shift after being around him. Did you see that?

“I don’t know if I saw a shift in the locker room, but I'm not in there 24/7 with the players. I think it’s been great. With Mohamoud. .. you look at people’s background, being Muslim. I think that’s every educational to people to go learn those ways. One of the great places that I got to coach as a young coach was the University of Utah. You get out there and you have a giant LDS community. You get to learn about the religion and the background and the people. And there was a Polynesian community. I got to learn a lot about the Polynesian community and some of those things. I’ve always been someone who loved to learn about different cultures. My mom is a British citizen. My mom is not a US citizen, she’s a British citizen. I had family that way. She taught classical ballet and theater. I was around the theater a lot. You think about different worlds? Think about football and the theater. You get to learn about different people and get to respect different ways, different thoughts, different beliefs. I really enjoy learning about different people and different cultures and different ways. You know what? I get frustrated with myself when I make (inaudible) of different things, but we all are at times. I get really frustrated when I make (inaudible) about things. Why would I not process this and and think about this in a better manner? It happens to everybody."

How do you make sure everyone on the team feels heard?

"Well that's interesting. That is a good question. We're working on different ways to constantly do that. Because the one thing is people are very comfortable in very different settings. Some guys are great getting up and talking in front of the whole team. Other guys maybe don't like those things. Other guys don't like to talk. Other guys maybe are very introverted. They're very private about their feelings. So we're trying different things, I think in person obviously. I will say this: the one thing that we decided on today we don't need to do is Zoom meetings. That's what we decided. There's just no personal aspect of opening up on a Zoom call, unfortunately. That's what the guys felt. So we're going to try and experiment in even different ways -- just more ways to go. The one bad thing, a lot of times you get a lot of that stuff during training camp and then the altered training camp has made it a little bit difficult this year. But we're going to continue to try and bring guys together closer as a team. And also, find good ways for us to use our platform to educate people. That's a big one to talk about. It's one thing to have a platform, it's one thing to make a statement, but how do you make change? And what's the best way to do that and make meaningful changes? And that's one of the things that everybody's working on."

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