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Mizzou's Drinkwitz on Blake shooting: 'There is a real problem'

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune
Missouri head football coach Eli Drinkwitz talks to junior defensive back Jarvis Ware at Wednesday's team practice at the Kadlec Practice Fields. [Eric Blum/Columbia Daily Tribune]

Missouri football coach Eli Drinkwitz is extremely disappointed.

Not with his football team, which completed its seventh fall practice on Wednesday, and not with his coaching staff or anything that happened in Columbia.

The 37-year-old is fed up with having the same racial and social injustice issues repeat themselves one incident after another across the nation this year. Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer Sunday while opening the door and leaning into his vehicle during an altercation with police over a domestic violence dispute.

The Blake family’s attorney said Blake was paralyzed and that it would “take a miracle” for him to walk again, The Associated Press reported. The shooting of the 29-year-old Blake was captured on cellphone video. No charges have been announced, and state officials continue to investigate.

The incident occurred nearly three months to the day after George Floyd, also a Black man, was killed while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department, as one of its officers pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds.

“Extremely disappointed that we're having to address these situations again,” Drinkwitz said Wednesday night via Zoom. “It says in the good book, ‘Don't grow weary while doing good, for in due time you shall receive your award if you do not lose heart.’ And we’ve got to keep bringing attention, because there is a real problem in the United States of America. Abraham Lincoln said, ‘We're striving to become a more perfect union.’ And we're not there yet. The atrocities that have occurred on videotape in the last three months, it's not right. And no matter what justification was used, there was no reason for seven shots to be fired in that situation and that's my opinion.

“I feel for my football team. I feel for our coaches. I was sitting with one of my coaches today while we're seeing it on ESPN and just the pain — we've got to make reform; we've got to address the issue so this does not continue to happen. And I want to be part of the solution, our football team wants to be part of the solution. We want to bring awareness to the situation and our prayers are with Jake, our prayers are with the state of Wisconsin and the situation right now. I support the police, there's good police officers, but the situation occurred again for the third time in three months. We’ve got, as the United States of America, to continue to do better.”

Drinkwitz also referenced the killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, which occurred in March by Louisville, Kentucky, police.

The first-year Tiger head coach’s remarks mirror comments he made in early June in the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s death while protests of social injustice swept the nation, including more than a dozen demonstrations in Columbia.

One of those protests, a peaceful demonstration June 3, was spearheaded by MU safety and Columbia native Martez Manuel, as members of the football team and several others from the Missouri athletic department marched from the Columns on Francis Quadrangle to the Boone County Courthouse.

While at the courthouse, the group knelt for 8 minutes, 46 seconds – the length of time related to Floyd’s killing – and 62 student-athletes registered to vote.

Drinkwitz said Wednesday the team as a whole hadn’t discussed Blake’s shooting yet, but he has spoken extensively with his players about trying to create change.

“We've launched several things throughout the summer to continue to bring awareness and promote change in a positive way,” Drinkwitz said. “And that's what we're looking to do. I don't know that there's going to be a dramatic deal, but I support our football team bringing awareness to a situation. It's a serious issue and that's my job as a leader, and that's our job with the platform we have. We're going to represent Mizzou in the right way. But we're also going to bring awareness to the situation.

“There need to be conversations about change. You’ve got to have conversations and everybody's got to open their heart to have those conversations, me included. You’ve got to open your heart and say, ‘What am I missing? What is going on here?’ So that's what we're going to do.”

Drinkwitz’s attention to social justice issues, and not just the gridiron, has resonated with his team.

“Coach Drink is really showing that he has a caring heart and it's not like he's doing these things just because he feels like he’s a head coach and a lot of the parents would want him to do those things,” Missouri senior cornerback Adam Sparks said. “He comes to us first before we even talk to our parents about it. ... You really want to go play for him, listen to what he says, respect everything that he has planned. So I feel like the little things like that really matter a lot.”

In the aftermath of Blake’s shooting, the NBA and WNBA canceled all games Wednesday, with the MLS and Major League Baseball also postponing certain contests. The WNBA’s Washington Mystics wore shirts inscribed with Blake’s name on the front and seven bloody bullet scars on the back.

Missouri sophomore defensive lineman Isaiah McGuire said he would discuss the facts of recent events with his teammates.

“It’s a dangerous world out there,” McGuire said. “Day to day, you never know what’ll happen. Just got to pray to God that you’ll be safe and others will be too.”