Ed Orgeron sought advice sometime within the past four days from one of his longtime mentors, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. The men have maintained a friendship since Carroll hired Orgeron at USC almost 20 years ago, and Orgeron wanted to know how Carroll, a White man, handled discussions about social injustice and racism with his football team.
Carroll had given a 15-minute statement about those issues Saturday, the day after LSU’s football players marched through campus instead of attending practice. Carroll spoke about voting rights, education, compassion and the responsibility White people have to help eradicate racism in America.
Orgeron later called Carroll for advice, and after their conversation, Orgeron said he learned he can’t be “oblivious to what’s going on out there” in regards to social injustices.
“We talked about it as a team,” said Orgeron, a White man. “Getting more educated about it, letting our guys voice their opinions, talking about the things they’re going through and how we can be a part of the solution.”
More LSU players may opt out of the upcoming football season.
Orgeron said he didn’t march with the players through campus Friday because he didn’t know about the protest before it happened, but in the four days since, Orgeron said he has tried to learn about the ways social injustice and racism affect LSU’s players on a daily basis.
As much as Orgeron uses “block out the noise” as a mantra for eliminating distractions during football season, he wants to understand the issues affecting LSU’s players away from the field.
“I went with them when they called me,” Orgeron said. “I’m glad I did.”
This has been an informative time for Orgeron. He thought LSU would practice Friday afternoon, but the players organized a peaceful protest after they arrived at the football operations building around noon. They decided practice wasn’t as important as furthering a conversation about racial inequalities.
The players gathered outside Tiger Stadium at 1 p.m., half an hour before a scheduled team meeting. Orgeron sent assistant coaches to talk to the players. He wanted to know if they were coming to practice. When Orgeron walked into LSU’s meeting room at 1:30 p.m., he said “there wasn’t a lot of people there.”
Three LSU football games are scheduled to be televised on CBS and two more for ESPN networks, the Southeastern Conference announced Tuesday.
Orgeron went upstairs to his office. Outside, the players marched toward the university administration building. Many players held one fist in the air. They felt inspired by professional athletes whose strikes postponed NBA playoff games and regular-season contests in multiple sports after a White police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, during an arrest last week.
The players, frustrated for a long time by social injustice, police shootings and inequality, joined a wave of protests in college football. They spoke with interim university president Tom Galligan about their concerns. They asked about the ways LSU has addressed racism on its campus. They wanted their voices heard by university leadership.
The players soon gathered in a tight circle around assistant coach Corey Raymond. Standing in the parking lot, their discussions continued. They wanted to speak with Orgeron.
“I got a call, ‘Coach, the team would like to meet you. They’re in the president’s office,’ ” Orgeron said. “That’s the next thing I heard.”
LSU defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin will opt out of the 2020 college football season, a source confirmed with The Advocate on Monday afternoon.
Thirty minutes later, Orgeron arrived with athletic director Scott Woodward. They walked through a back entrance. Orgeron was dressed for practice, wearing a white t-shirt and purple LSU shorts. He stepped into the board of supervisor’s room where the players sat waiting for him.
Orgeron stood at the front of the room for an hour. The players told Orgeron why they marched, expressed their opinions and shared experiences Orgeron said he never knew about. Orgeron voiced his opinions, too.
After the meeting, Orgeron said he “fully supported” the players’ actions and would lead “more open dialogue” on problems away from football. He hadn’t liked missing practice, but he hoped the meeting would bring the team closer together.
“We said things that are on our chest,” senior safety JaCoby Stevens said. “I think we’re going to grow as a football team and as a family from that.”
By the end, the players emerged feeling pleased with the response from their head coach. Stevens and senior defensive end Andre Anthony, the players who led the march, thanked Orgeron on their social media accounts, appreciating that he listened to their concerns.
The back door of an LSU freight truck, meant for hauling football equipment, opened wide for the forklift carrying dozens of water bottle cases.
“Coach O demonstrated support and presented us with the utmost respect by listening to our points of view as Black athletes in an attempt to understand the challenges we face,” Anthony wrote on Twitter. “The first step is acknowledging that there is an issue and we need change. I commend him for his efforts.”
The team reconvened for practice Monday. The players wore full pads, able to hold a more physical session after the majority of the offensive line spent last week in quarantine because of coronavirus exposure. LSU installed short yardage plays and put players through one-on-one drills.
But the team also discussed societal issues away from football, Orgeron said, and during a meeting, Orgeron tried to learn about problems his players have faced off the field. He said he let them share their opinions and wanted to help find solutions to inequality and racism.
“When I say ‘block out the noise,’ when we come into work, we’re focusing on the task at hand but not being oblivious to what’s going on out there,” Orgeron said. “Because obviously it’s affecting our players. If it’s affecting our players, I need to be educated on what’s going on, why it’s going on, listen to them, open up some dialogue and find some solutions.”