For defensive tackle Aaron Crawford, all of it hit close to home. The redshirt sophomore played high-school football in Ashburn, Va., about two hours from Charlottesville, where a rally to keep a statue of Robert E. Lee standing turned into two days of protests and violence earlier this month.
“It’s been difficult to assess,” Crawford said. “I’ve got a lot of old teammates, friends and family out in Charlottesville… And even down here, my friends that went out to the rally by Silent Sam. We’re at a difficult spot in the country.”
Speaking of last week’s Silent Sam rally, Fedora had made his stance on that clear. As long as his players communicated with him beforehand, they were free to attend. The same logic holds for any event of the sort.
“It is up to them,” Fedora said. “All I ask is that they don't surprise me.”
Fedora said no one on his team ended up attending the protest. Crawford said the coach advised his players to “maybe not put (themselves) out there,” citing the extra attention it could bring to the team. Still, Fedora ultimately gave them the choice.
“I’m always trying to support the people that are trying to be more progressive in the country in terms of equality, especially with the anti-rally,” Crawford said of attending the protest. “Of course I had thoughts about it.”
Jeremiah Clarke, one of Crawford’s teammates on the defensive line, also grew up about two hours away from Charlottesville in Alexandria, Va. He has family in the area who he promptly contacted as the protests continued.
Clarke admitted he’s stayed apart from anything political, focusing more on preparing for North Carolina’s home opener against California on Saturday. He also said he supports athletes speaking out — just as long as they know what they’re talking about.
“Our platforms can form a lot of other people’s opinions,” he said. “I think we should use it in a positive way and bring light to certain situations. But it also takes knowledge of the situation. So, if we’re going to speak on it, we should know a lot about it.”
A third defensive lineman, Jalen Dalton, had his own strategy.
His phone was broken during the Charlottesville protests, and he decided to stay off social media as much as he could. Crawford noted the team was “shielded off from everything” during camp, so it wasn’t too hard for Dalton to do.
“I didn't really want to see much on it,” Dalton said. “Just because I know, personally, it would’ve affected me in a certain way. I didn't even need to bother reading into it.”
Different responses among just three players highlight the decisions college athletes must make in these situations — whether to speak out or to stay neutral.
For Crawford, the answer to that question is a no-brainer. He was visibly emotional while answering questions about Charlottesville, taking a number of pauses and long sighs as he addressed the topic.
“It’s a tough spot in our country right now,” he said. “I’ll never deny that.”