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IOWA CITY -- Football wasn’t important Wednesday.
At first, Iowa defensive line coach Kelvin Bell stood at the podium, fielding usual questions on player positions and his love for coaching, but he was finally asked about the elephant in the room.
As a Black football coach, how did he feel following Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict in the trial of George Floyd’s murder?
“(Tuesday), it was a day filled with sadness, and it was a day filled with relief,” Bell said. “The sadness was because it opened some old wounds. Even though people saw what they saw on camera, I wasn't wanting to raise my hand and say that it was going to be a slam dunk conviction on that case. I think that goes to show you, even if you can see a man be murdered on camera for the world to see, and for you to still have doubt that the perpetrator will be convicted of murder, shows how much further we have to go just in terms of race relations, accountability, justice.
“Because I've seen it where the verdict didn't go that way.”
Bell referenced the trial of Rodney King, who was beaten by four Los Angeles police officers following his arrest for drunken driving in 1991. The incident, which was caught on video, also led to a trial, but despite the four officers being charged with use of excessive force, three were acquitted and the jury did not reach a verdict on the final officer.
Bell said the difference here was the power of social media, which made the video of George Floyd reach a wider audience and spark conversation.
As a coach, Bell said, he sees conversations like this as essential to his job. That’s why he wakes up every day to find an inspirational quote from places like the Tim Triplett leadership papers to put on his players’ notes sheets.
“It's not always about making sure your eyes are in the right place and playing with pad level,” Bell said. “You’ve got to relate to these kids on a personal level. The development has to be holistic.”
Relating on a personal level is something he recognized as something he failed to do in the past. This is something that came up last week when he discussed the killing of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man stopped at a traffic light in the Minneapolis area, with his team.
“I made a mistake last summer in assuming that my players knew where I stood and assuming that I knew where certain players stood based off where they were from, or what they may look like and I’ll never do that again,” Bell said. “Last year, our white players had no idea that our Black peers felt the way that they did. Although they were unaware, they wanted to listen, they were thirsty for that knowledge. That brought us together.”
The team met Wednesday morning to discuss the trial’s verdict. Bell said he was dropping one of his kids off at day care during the discussion, but he had led many of the conversations over the past year.
Assistant defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Seth Wallace said the meeting Wednesday morning was one of many that has brought the team together over the past year. He feels there is more transparency from players and staff after last summer.
"We can do the work here in our building, we can spend more time with each other, we can get to know each other better and if we do that, then we've got a chance affect those on the outside,“ Wallace said. "We've got a lot of work to do as a country and stopping the cycle that we're in.
“It has been 331 days since the murder of George Floyd. I don't know how much has actually gotten better.”
Part of that work is having athletes who come from all over the country with different backgrounds to come together and open each others’ eyes through conversation.
"When you're in the majority, you don't really think about how things affect the minority and that doesn't make you a bad person,“ Bell said. ”You haven't been exposed to it, but it's our job in this environment to make sure that everyone is exposed to everyone's culture.“
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