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OU football: Lincoln Riley says Sooners made 'this march today of solidarity' to protest racial injustice

NORMAN — OU’s football team emerged from the locker room and headed to the practice field Friday morning.

Instead of walking out individually, they were in rows of three or four. Instead of wearing helmets and pads, they were clad in black shirts. Instead of practicing, they walked silently across the practice field to Lindsey Street, taking a right and heading toward the South Oval.

The Sooners became the latest team to demonstrate against violence by police against the Black community.

“We made this march today of solidarity, not because we have the answers to all that’s going on in our country right now but we are a group of people that are hurt, that are scared, frustrated, but motivated to do our part,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said at the Unity Garden in the shadow of Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. 

The demonstration came 57 years to the day after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, something Riley mentioned at the end of his speech, before a 57-second moment of silence.

The demonstration by the Sooners came five days after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot by police multiple times in the back in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The shooting ignited more conversation — and outrage — about police violence against the Black community.

After the Milwaukee Bucks initially decided to boycott their NBA playoff game Wednesday and the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets decided to do the same, the NBA and WNBA postponed their games for several days, NHL playoff games were postponed Thursday and several Major League Baseball games were postponed as well.

Riley was front and center as the Sooners walked. He was flanked by senior defensive back Chanse Sylvie and junior center Creed Humphrey.

Sylvie, who is Black, has been one of OU’s most outspoken athletes for social justice reform, releasing a plan for police reform over the summer and meeting with both lawmakers and law enforcement.

Humphrey, who is white and from Shawnee, has been outspoken on social media about the issue as well.

“There’s no way to grow within the confines of comfort,” Humphrey tweeted, in part, Wednesday. “I urge us as a community to embrace the uncomfortable talks between each other, to help grow and improve together.”

The scene Friday was reminiscent of the one the Sooners made in 2015 in the wake of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon racist chant incident at the school.

That happened just weeks after Riley’s arrival at OU.

Riley said he hoped the progress that he felt was made after the 2015 incident could be mirrored with this demonstration but that “it’s a new team and a new time and a new set of circumstances.”

Riley said several times that neither he nor the team have the answers to how to fix these issues.

“We don’t,” Riley said. “We’ve got a lot more questions than answers, but we are united. And we do believe that unity is a huge step in this and hopefully people will take from it what they wanna take, but hopefully they see that we’re together and we’re together from just about every different type of background that you can imagine.”

Riley grew up in Muleshoe, a tiny town in west Texas.

He alluded to his upbringing when asked about what he has learned from conversations with his players and others, not only this week in the wake of Blake’s shooting, but from earlier this year after George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minnesota.

“I have not lived or had to experience some of the things that a lot of my players have had to,” Riley said. “As much as you want to read about it, this or that, it’s different when it hits home and when it’s somebody you care about. That has absolutely been a learning experience for me.

“It’s made me more aware.”

In the weeks after Floyd was killed in late May, Riley used the phrase “Black lives matter” on Twitter and discussed why using that phrase was important for him.

The conversations with his players then happened almost exclusively through phone calls and on Zoom as the team was scattered in the weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country.

This time, those conversations are happening in person.

“Certainly when you got somebody there, it’s more emotional, but easier at the same time because you can spend that face-to-face time with them and have those true meaningful conversations that are tough to have on a computer screen. It’s been great that they are here to be able to kind of journey through this together, but for me, I know it’s made it a lot more real,” Riley said.

Riley said he and his players have had productive conversations with local law enforcement groups.

“Just another example that we can all work together — whether it’s Black, white, civilian, law enforcement, whatever tags you want to put,” Riley said. “If people are motivated and listen to each other, we can work together.”

The Sooners will resume practice soon, but the message won’t go away. 

“You can’t be defeated in these moments. You can’t be hopeless,” Riley said. “You gotta be even more motivated and our hope is more together.”

Related Photos
Defensive back Chanse Sylvie, left, head coach Lincoln Riley, center, and offensive lineman Creed Humphrey, right, lead the Oklahoma football team from the Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on a march to the Unity Garden to protest racial injustice in Norman, Okla., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Defensive back Chanse Sylvie, left, head coach Lincoln Riley, center, and offensive lineman Creed Humphrey, right, lead the Oklahoma football team from the Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on a march to the Unity Garden to protest racial injustice in Norman, Okla., Friday, Aug. 28,...

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-55e21863dd33a06085c0a8778806529a.jpg" alt="Photo - Defensive back Chanse Sylvie, left, head coach Lincoln Riley, center, and offensive lineman Creed Humphrey, right, lead the Oklahoma football team from the Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on a march to the Unity Garden to protest racial injustice in Norman, Okla., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)" title="Defensive back Chanse Sylvie, left, head coach Lincoln Riley, center, and offensive lineman Creed Humphrey, right, lead the Oklahoma football team from the Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on a march to the Unity Garden to protest racial injustice in Norman, Okla., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)"><figcaption>Defensive back Chanse Sylvie, left, head coach Lincoln Riley, center, and offensive lineman Creed Humphrey, right, lead the Oklahoma football team from the Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on a march to the Unity Garden to protest racial injustice in Norman, Okla., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3e84ee19db859eb6507f990cf2925abc.jpg" alt="Photo - Helmets sit on the field before an NCAA football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the TCU Horned Frogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. Oklahoma won 28-24. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title="Helmets sit on the field before an NCAA football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the TCU Horned Frogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. Oklahoma won 28-24. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption>Helmets sit on the field before an NCAA football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the TCU Horned Frogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. Oklahoma won 28-24. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-824e44bdbe524705e01ec17724ec029a.jpg" alt="Photo - OU football coach Lincoln Riley speaks Friday at the Unity Garden near Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. [RYAN ABER/THE OKLAHOMAN]" title="OU football coach Lincoln Riley speaks Friday at the Unity Garden near Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. [RYAN ABER/THE OKLAHOMAN]"><figcaption>OU football coach Lincoln Riley speaks Friday at the Unity Garden near Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. [RYAN ABER/THE OKLAHOMAN]</figcaption></figure>
Ryan Aber

Ryan Aber has worked for The Oklahoman since 2006, covering high schools, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Oklahoma City Barons and OU football recruiting. An Oklahoma City native, Aber graduated from Northeastern State. Before joining The... Read more ›

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