COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - In an exclusive one-on-one conversation, Gamecock women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley spoke to WIS about race, the recent protests and riots.
She shared her perspective and conversations with her team in response to the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.
“When you watch someone take their last breath, and it’s not in a movie, it takes the imagination out of it,” Staley said. “It puts it right in the forefront of your mind.”
Shedding light on issues the African-American community faces, Staley said she supports peaceful protests following what she calls “the murder” of Floyd. She added that his death, and how it happened, brings the painful past and mistreatment of blacks by law enforcement back to the forefront.
“Absolutely, there’s been progress,” she added. “But, when you have an explosive thing like what happened, it makes you think. It takes you back to a place where you forget about moving the needle because it takes you so far back.”
Staley does not condone the violence that resulted in personal injury and property damage in Columbia and nationally. But she offered a perspective on why a peaceful protest can turn turbulent.
“When you’re a black person, you’re forced to see race,” she said. “You’re forced to see the color of your skin by what’s done to you and said to you. Where we are today, with the riots, I don’t think the people rioting really understand how to be heard or how to converse. Because whoever is on the other side of that conversation, they’re not talking, they are not listening and they are not doing. So this is how people are lashing out.”
Staley said she has experienced racism first-hand as a black woman traveling the globe.
“I have experienced being in a first-class line and looked past, or being asked whether I was in the right line or not,” she shared. “That doesn’t make me feel good. How did I handle it? I told the customer service rep, ‘You’re not going to ruin my day. I can read. I know where I belong.’ Hopefully, no one has to experience that on that smaller scale. That’s just a tiny glimpse of what’s happening in our world today.”
On Sunday, Staley held a discussion with her team about the recent events in our nation and city.
“It’s hard,” she said. “Give them a place to air what’s on their hearts. What’s on their hearts is they don’t understand. They have zero understanding of what’s taking place, from the riots to the murder, they have no idea.”
She added: “I don’t have the answers to comfort our players. I don’t want things to simmer in them. I want them to talk about it. I want us to find solutions to where we can continue and help, we can use our voices and change. That’s what it is going to take.”
Staley hopes the time is now to effect real change in how African Americans are treated in American society.
“What more can happen?” she asked. “More deaths? More murders? More riots? We actually saw George Floyd take his last breath. I hope that it takes him taking his last breath from a police officer, that we have change, that we have national change.”
Staley praised Sheriff Leon Lott and Chief Skip Holbrook for how they approach and perform their duties. She added that we need to spotlight good law enforcement interactions.
Staley says the younger generation must be more socially conscious and use their voice to effect change. A great way to be the change, she says, is to register to vote and vote.