"I'm disappointed that we’re in 2020 and still have all this racial injustice going on."
During the North Carolina football team's Zoom press conference on Thursday, that's how senior linebacker Tomon Fox summed up what's been at the forefront of his mind over the last several weeks.
As the Tar Heels continue their return to campus in the midst of a pandemic, players made it clear that questions surrounding how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have constituted only a fraction of the conversation dominating the locker room in Chapel Hill.
"We’ve always been very direct and very fair with our team," head coach Mack Brown said. "We’ve always said there would never be an elephant in the room. We discuss it. We’ve talked about it. We told the guys, 'Talk to us. I’m white. I don’t know how you feel if you’re Black, and you need to tell me.'
"Our dressing room is not an issue, it’s a melting pot," Brown added. "It’s safe. It’s fun. If the United States was run like our dressing room, we wouldn’t have any of these problems because we’re fair, consistent and we always try to do what we know is the right thing to do."
Sam Howell believes other programs may be struggling with a lack of discussion among team members — a problem his team doesn't have, he said.
"I think what we’re seeing at a lot of other schools is there’s just a lack of communication within the program," Howell said. "We don’t have that here. As soon as something hits the news or as soon as something happens, we have a team meeting and talk about it. That’s the main thing."
Both Howell and Brown said that, as white men, they know that when it comes to the protests and fights for racial justice happening across the country, their job is to listen to their Black counterparts, learn from these educational dialogues and react in a way that helps initiate positive changes.
But Brown also took the opportunity during a team meeting last week to remind his players that each of them has a voice of their own and a platform at their disposal to help spark movements.
"Being a student-athlete, you know you have some type of power," Fox said. "It may not be that much, it’s just a little bit, but we just have to use it to the best of our abilities to make something happen."
Senior running back Michael Carter decided to put actions behind his teammates' words and made the decision to help lead a hometown protest organized by his older brother, Dwayne, in Navarre, Florida.
Watching the video of George Floyd's murder was traumatic for him, Carter said.
"It’s really sad for me to watch, and it feels like real trauma," Carter said. "I see my dad and I see my uncle and I see my coach and I see my brother and I see myself within George Floyd. Within all of that is where I just feel so much pain. It felt like an act of terror as I was watching it."
For Carter, the biggest goal moving forward is maintaining the momentum that Black Lives Matter and other racial justice movements have worked to build.
"Just being able to educate people on things that Black people go through and understanding that these protests that Colin Kaepernick and many others were doing aren’t about an American flag," Carter said. "It’s about people in America being treated unjustly and unfairly, so it’s never been about that. For me, it would be of great interest to try and do some more things like that."
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