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Mizzou’s Martin on changing racial injustice: 'We’re all a part of this'

Eric Blum
The Examiner
The Examiner

Since posting a statement online Sunday about racial injustice toward African Americans amid nationwide protests after the death of George Floyd, Missouri head men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin has remained outspoken on the issue.

Martin, an East St. Louis, Illinois, native who is entering his fourth season guiding the Tigers, makes it a point to develop people in his program beyond just winning games.

Floyd, a black man, died late last month after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

Martin took time Wednesday to appear on the Columbia Daily Tribune’s Mizzou Sports Podcast to discuss the ongoing protests, Missouri’s return to campus for voluntary workouts and more.

The conversation has been slightly edited for clarity and length in this article.

Tribune: First off coach, how are you, your family and your team doing?

Martin: “I'm doing fine, man. The family is well, I'm trying to get my four-to-nine-mile walks in a day depending on how the body’s feeling. Things are moving forward, our players are fine. The COVID virus, it’s been 11 weeks now, maybe 12 weeks. So just pretty much Zoom calls twice a week. Checking in with FaceTime calls, regular calls with the staff, just making sure they’re doing the right things. But so far, so good.”

Tribune: It may get a little lost in the shuffle with everything going on in the world right now, but the Southeastern Conference has allowed voluntary workouts to resume for men’s basketball starting Monday. What do you expect that look like for your program?

Martin: “I think it's still a slow process. All of our guys will be on campus, if they're willing to come right now. Some guys might say, ‘Well, coach, I just don't feel comfortable with coming back.’ And that's fine with me just with the virus and that sort of thing. So I have no problem with that at all. That's their right, because I would rather have those guys in a place of comfort than to come back and not be comfortable. ... I think there'll be a two-week period really trying to test drive, if you will, being in the weight room with our strength coach. But it’s all voluntary workouts in a weight room. So I can't be in the weight room. I can look at it from the outside, then they'll rotate out a different door. Then I think there's a 15-20-minute grace period where they clean up the equipment. ... As far as the basketball is concerned right now, they’re not allowed to do anything on the basketball floor. So they're probably doing more at home or wherever they are.”

Tribune: When you first saw the news about Floyd’s death, what went through your mind?

Martin: “I don’t think it ignited anything that we haven’t seen before, which is very unfortunate. ... This is hard for me to say, it’s the truth because I want to be honest. I remember being back in California when Colin Kaepernick took a knee, and you saw and understood it had nothing to do with a flag, but you understood why he was kneeling. At least I understood it. ... This time around, this has allowed the whole world to see. That was a tough, tough thing to watch. And I'm not sure if you can watch that and say anything else but murder. And that was hard. I just think you have to take a stand and there’s more to it than talking about this right now. There’s action and no more behind-the-scenes action. We have to be a part of this as a country. We’re all a part of this.”

Tribune: What exactly is it about these protests that stand out to you?

Martin: “I think, in my opinion, what I'm seeing in these protests now, is what I had a chance to experience when I was in California, or heard about in California, mainly in the Bay Area. When there were protests, you would oftentimes see more white people protesting than you would see blacks, but they were protesting black rights and maybe black issues. And when I first saw that, I was amazed by it, even though I read about it in books, I maybe saw it from afar, I was amazed by it. And I think you're starting to see that now in the South, in the Midwest and out East. And I don't think those were things that we really saw (in the past), black and white together saying, ‘This is wrong.’ And I think that's where you start to make strides and we're making progress in this country. I guess beauty in a chaotic situation, a destructive situation, if you will.”

Tribune: What did you think about some of your players and other student-athletes from Missouri taking part in the protests happening in Columbia?

Martin: “If you protest, that’s your human right. I think you protest how you feel. So I would always try to stay away from violence in protests. You never want violence and of course you don't want looting. So you want to stay away from those things. That's part of your human right. If you feel the need to protest, that is your right. That's all races. ... And the only thing I would say in all that, try to be responsible, be aware of your surroundings, stay away from harming people or harming your community. I live in this community, right? Coming from East St. Louis, Columbia is my home. I live here. I don't want to see my home being harmed and trashed. So, if you (protest), I would pray that you do it with nobody getting hurt.”