Walt Bell felt compelled to speak, but he didn't know precisely what to say. Still, he knew he needed to say something.
After George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer while laying on the ground, and tear gas was used on citizens protesting his killer's lack of arrest, the UMass head coach was compelled to speak.
"Last night when I laid my head on my pillow, I had to ask my God to bring my 50 minority student-athletes back to me safely. And the reason why I had to ask that is awful. It's shameful," he said.
And while he didn't mention him by name, it's clear in Bell's video that the death of Ahmaud Arbery weighed heavy on his heart as well. Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was murdered while out for a jog. The murder happened in February, but his killers were not arrested until the video became public earlier this month.
That horrific turn of events just happened to occur when thousands of college football players, the majority of whom are black, have been doing the exact same types of things Arbery did when he was murdered. Displaced by a pandemic, football players have been forced to train in their own neighborhoods, an activity that, for young black men, is obviously more dangerous than it should be.
"The fact that, my wife and I, when we say our prayers, I have to ask to bring my minority student-athletes back to me safely whenever we're allowed to," Bell said. "I know my kids, they're going to be running, they're going to be lifting, they're going to be conditioning. They don't have access to facilities. That means they're going to be on their street, they're going to be on a road in their neighborhood. They're going to be doing things outside of Amherst, Massachusetts. I'm not going to have the ability to protect them."
A white coach who makes his living coaching mostly minority athletes, Bell struggles to find the right words to internalize what he's feeling. It's a universal feeling right now among white coaches and athletes.
"I am a white male in a position of leadership, and I don't take lightly the fact that I have not experienced some of these things that our individual guys have had to experience," Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders told ESPN. "So I wanted to make sure we were listeners, that we could become more educated as people completely inexperienced in never getting the benefit of the doubt. I grew up in Minnesota, and this hasn't been sitting well with me for the past two days. Sometimes the silence can be deafening, too. When we're given opportunity to speak on what's right, I think it's important to do that."
"Being from North Dakota, I've spent a large part of my life surrounded by people of a similar color, so I'm never gonna act like I know what the black community goes through or even has gone through already," Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz said in a Twitter post on Thursday. "I'll never know the feeling of having to worry about my kids going outside because of their skin color. However, I do know that we are all equal at the foot of the cross and Jesus taught us to value others' lives like they were our own--regardless of the skin tone."
So, then, how should a white coach lead a group of largely black men across territory he's never crossed?
"The first thing any coach should do is listen," former Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington head coach Tyrone Willingham told me. "The most important skill in life is to listen. Listening is not a black response, a white response, a green response, it's a human response. When they're not adding their insight, they've not walked in those players' shoes, when they're truly listening, then they can have a heartfelt response to what they're truly hearing. To me that's pretty simple.
"Usually you know what to say if you're truly listening. Most of us don't know what to say because we're not hearing the depth of what's being said."
When it comes time to speak, white coaches and athletes are in a unique position to advocate for a demographic they know better than the general population.
"Football coaches are in a position to be advocates," a Power 5 recruiting director, who is black, told me. "The way they view black people is different than most people do, with the way sports brings people of all backgrounds together toward a common goal. It's not just student-athletes, it's your assistant coaches and the people in your building. Coaches and athletes at this level, some of your best friends are going to be black. They know our character much better than the general population."
A Twitter post by former NFL quarterback and current ESPN personality Dan Orlovsky touched on this.
"I have spent most of my life around black men because of playing college football and in the NFL," he wrote. "What happened over that time was the poison/lies/stereotypes I was led to believe about the black community as (a) kid were wiped away. My whole adult life has been spent around good hearted, integrity filled, hard working, kind, funny, intelligent, conscious, motivated, loyal, friendly, trustworthy, amazing, successful black people. Without sports, I don't think I have those lies wiped away. I wish everyone could experience this."
One Power 5 assistant, who is black, told me it's especially important for white athletes and coaches to speak up because it's their words who can truly affect necessary change.
"For so long, there have been these obvious injustices. Things that are either right or wrong, good or bad. LeBron James speaks out about Trayvon Martin, it just doesn't have the same impact as if it's Tom Brady," he said. "If I'm on the Minnesota Vikings, all I need is the white guys in the locker room to feel the same way I feel.
"Ben Franklin said it best when he said, 'Justice will not be served until those unaffected are as outraged as those who are.' My white counterparts on the staff, they don't have to tell their sons what I have to tell mine -- hands out where the officer can see them, hand the officer your business card. But, if you really want justice to be served, if we look at the same video and you're as outraged as I am, that will foster change."