Sports have an innate ability to unify people in ways few other parts of society can replicate. Particularly when it comes to the makeup of the teams themselves, they can be a melting pot of people of varying races, backgrounds and socioeconomic levels.
That’s why Frank Martin said athletes and coaches can, at times, be blinded to the hold the effects of racism still have in the United States.
“We learn to respect each other and learn from each other. We find out that helping one another allows us all to succeed,” Martin, a former men’s basketball head coach at Kansas State, wrote in a message posted to his personal Twitter account Saturday night. “We don’t judge each other based on the color of our skin or where we come from, so sometimes it’s difficult for us to understand how everyone else functions.”
Martin, who signed the 900-plus-word message along with his wife, Anya, was compelled to share his thoughts in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last week.
“This past week has created some conversation within our family that’s been full of great concern and confusion,” wrote Martin, who now is South Carolina’s head coach. “The tragic murder of George Floyd has our family praying for his family and for a better America. No one deserves to have their life taken at the hands of another, especially an unarmed, handcuffed man, pleading for what we have seen as his last breaths. All this from the hands of those who took an oath to serve and protect; our police force?!”
Martin pointed out there “are so many great police officers in this world” who uphold truth and justice, who protect and serve citizens — regardless of their race and ethnicity — each and every day. He just wishes all were that way.
“There are some police officers who ... choose to act based on their independent (bias) toward individuals based on the color of their skin,” Martin wrote. “This is an act we need to put an end to now!”
Martin said “great police officers” kept him safe as he went through life. The same goes for his wife and others around him. He wants the next generation to be afforded that same respect.
“We pray that everyone will use their abilities and capabilities to facilitate conversation, and more importantly, action, to create the change that is needed for all,” he wrote. “Use your space in peace and love, not with destroying neighborhoods that your peers work so hard to grow. Always remember that love attracts people that don’t know us. So please don’t act through hate. Everyone needs to place their faith in God and spread truth through love.”
Martin admitted that as a coach, he needs to do more to bring about change in this country — and he wants athletes to do the same.
“We need to use our platform to eliminate the silence toward the ugliness that obviously exists in our country,” he wrote. “We pray that God allows us all to open our hearts and minds to continue to create change toward the prejudice, racism and hatred that exists.”
Much of his perspective on racial issues comes from his wife. Martin wrote that he leans “real hard” on her to help him prepare his children and players for the future. That’s because of her upbringing — she’s the daughter of Jamaican immigrants — and her journey, by which she used a track and field scholarship at Massachusetts (where she excelled as a hurdles and relay specialist) to earn a bachelor’s and then master’s degree.
Now, she helps her husband raise their three biracial children.
“The Frank Martin story,” he wrote, has been told enough. (He told readers to “Google my name if you want to know.”) But he believes Anya’s story hasn’t received as much notoriety as it deserves.
“Seeing life through her eyes and experiences has allowed me to be a much better human being in helping me to understand her different cultural experiences,” Martin wrote. “This moment is not about us, but in trying to stand up for people that look like our family, the people we grew up with, and for all of our African-American teammates, former players and present players. We have both experienced the pain that others’ ignorance causes because of the color of our skin, the annunciation of Francisco Jose Martin or speaking the language we first learned (Anya’s Jamaican accent or Frank speaking Spanish).”
Accomplishing what he has in college basketball — he’s won more than 60% of his games in 13 years as a head coach, split between K-State (2007-12) and South Carolina (2012-present) and took the Gamecocks to the Final Four in 2016-17 — paired with Anya’s academic endeavors and the family they’ve created, Martin said it’s hard to reconcile seeing other minorities struggle.
“Our confusion comes from the fact that this country, which has been so great to both of our families can also be so ugly to others,” he wrote. “This country is so diverse, has so many great people in it and has come such a long way from where it used to be, with the understanding there is still forward progress needed. However, in moments like (Floyd’s death) in Minneapolis, we are reminded that we still have individuals that live life through radical ignorance toward people because of the color of their skin and that we still have so far to go.”
Martin begged politicians, on both sides of the aisle, to quit bickering and name calling. He wants them to use their positions to help the country heal.
“The time is now to take action and make real change,” he wrote. “At our age now, the issues of our childhood neighborhoods and of other neighborhoods like ours have not changed and continue to exist. Please stand up and give us strength and hope. We need you now!”
Martin didn’t claim to have the solution to change people’s hearts. But he had a double-pronged idea. One part of it consisted of education. Learning more about the country’s ills, while it might “not prevent others from being ignorant,” he wrote, it does “give a seat at the table” for those who now are without voices.
The other half of his idea consisted of a less tangible property.
“Hate does not drown hate; you need love to do that,” he wrote. “To earn love, we have to listen to the concerns of others and give love.”
This past week has been really tough for me. I have a responsibility to my family, my players, my university and my community. I’ve had deep discussions with people from every group. Here is where me, my family stand #GeorgeFloyd #StandUp4HumanRights #BeHeardMakeAction pic.twitter.com/TWam0rEXeU— Frank Martin (@FrankMartin_SC) May 31, 2020