WCIA — Lovie Smith didn’t rush to speak out or release a statement.
That in itself, is not all that unusual for the mild-mannered Illini football coach. Most of the time the 62-year old would rather listen first before making his thoughts public. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Smith wasn’t the first coach to offer his thoughts on the civil unrest in our country. Smith made his first public comments Friday on NBCSN’s ‘Lunch Talk Live’ with Mike Tirico.
“As we look at what’s going on, I’ve been asked a lot of times, ‘Hey Lovie can you give me a statement about what’s going on right now? Can you do that?'” Smith said. “It’s so much more than that.”
Smith’s words certainly resonated, opening up about his life and experiences with racism. Tensions are high across the country with protests, looting and calls to action to end racial inequality and police brutality after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes in Minneapolis last week. Chauvin is in custody, accused of second-degree murder. The three other officers who were on scene are also behind bars.
“A few things we need to acknowledge and we can’t go much farther until we do this. Systemic racism exists in our world, we have to acknowledge that first, before we can go any farther, I’ve seen it,” Smith said. “It’s one thing to identify a problem, then it’s how we change that problem. That’s what we’ve been doing at the University of Illinois, we’re trying to make the world better but it can’t be words.”
Smith encourages his players to protest, but says much more needs to be done in order to create change. He insists all athletes fulfill their civic duty, and encourages them to vote and be informed about the issues facing our country.
“This is the true way for people to hear your voice. We as America have acknowledged that we don’t like what’s going on right now,” says Smith. “We need to look at our leader–do we like the policies he has in place? The only way to make real change is come together, diversity does that.”
Smith’s 2020 Illinois staff is one of the most diverse in the nation, and he continues to break barriers in more ways than one. Smith hired Ashton Washington as their Director of High School Relations. Washington is Illinois Football’s first black woman in a full-time staff position. Smith also recognizes that the college football landscape mostly dictated by records. He adds while success on the field is important for a program, the culture he’s created beyond the field is far more valuable.
“To me it’s about the platform of putting a model together, to see exactly what can happen when you look beyond your normal comfort zone of people,” says Smith. “The record eventually comes back to it. I realize that. It is more than that. The University of Illinois is headed in the right direction. We made progress, we made noise last year, this year is our time to knock down the door.”