PULLMAN – The leadership council Nick Rolovich assembled prior to his first season as Washington State’s coach was designed in large part to give his football players a voice and underline the player-first strategy he’s trying to establish in Pullman.
It’s already serving an important purpose.
On Tuesday, approximately two hours before WSU players took the field for their 10th spring practice, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of all three charges against him for the murder of George Floyd – the incident that, last summer, triggered nationwide protests around the conversations of racial injustice and police brutality.
Expecting a verdict on the Floyd trial early this week, and anticipating the emotions that might come with it for a college football team largely made up of young African Americans – many of whom have already used their voice to take a public stand against racial inequality – Rolovich called a meeting with his leadership council following the team’s scrimmage on Saturday.
“I think we were, like most people, on pins and needles earlier this afternoon,” Rolovich said. “We were prepared to do whatever we needed to do for our team and how they’re feeling. I pulled the leadership committee aside. I’d caught word that the verdict was probably coming down early this week.
“So I pulled them after the scrimmage and I said, this is coming down. However it happens, I just need communication. I want you to watch out for the rest of the team. Look and see if anybody needs to speak to anybody or is feeling any kind of way and as we get to that moment, we can talk about how we want to move forward.”
Various programs and conferences around the country released statements in the wake of Tuesday’s verdict. USC’s football program postponed a spring practice that was supposed to take place in the afternoon, instead electing to use the time to “discuss the racial injustices prevalent in our society and in our daily lives.” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal shared his thoughts in more succinct fashion, simply tweeting “#Progress” after Tuesday’s decision came down.
WSU elected to hold a previously scheduled afternoon practice at Rogers Field , but not before members of the leadership council had a chance to gauge the temperature of the team as a whole.
“I think they did some real thinking on Sunday and (the verdict), obviously, it didn’t come out Monday,” Rolovich said. “I truly appreciated engagement and the responsibility that’s been taken by the leadership committee in not only building this team, but also the care they have for this team top to bottom and how people are feeling.”
Some players had learned of the verdict before strapping on pads for practice while others hadn’t. It didn’t seem to change the tone of their message.
“I’m not sure what happened, but with whatever happened, all I can say is spread love and spread inspiration and keep people’s head up,” linebacker Travion Brown said.
Over the past year, the Cougars have had various opportunities and platforms to discuss topics related to racial injustice. Rolovich said WSU edge coach A.J. Cooper, a founding member of the Coaches Coalition for Progress created by San Francisco basketball coach Todd Golden, has been “a good sounding board” for players interested in such conversations.
“For the most part, we’re all together in this,” Brown said. “It is a hard time where people can make decisions and go against each other, but right now we’re really tight-knit and we’ve come together more and more every day we’re at practice. So, it doesn’t really affect us. We’re a tight-knit team. We’re brothers.”
Wide receiver Travell Harris saw an alert about Tuesday’s verdict before the team practiced and relayed an opinion that was similar to Brown’s.
“I just want to say, it’s a very touchy subject and we’ve just got to love one another in this world and come together and realize what’s going on,” Harris said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Cougs newsletter
Get the latest Cougs headlines delivered to your inbox as they happen.