Reich and Allen’s open minds may mean open racial dialogue


They are men who call for unity and trust in huddles as they supervise teams with big dreams in a tough sport, almost like father figures at the heads of large families.

They traffic in discipline and teamwork as they lead, mingle with and teach men of disparate backgrounds.

And last week, their minds were too troubled to talk from their playbooks, instead speaking from their hearts.

Frank Reich and Tom Allen momentarily put aside the game that is their livelihood, trying to tell the world these are their guys, their Indianapolis Colts and Indiana University Hoosiers, not only when they are sweating on the field.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

Eloquently and with emotion, two of the most prominent football coaches in the state wore thoughts on their lips during this time of turbulence as American citizens took to the streets to protest police brutality and to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Injustice,” said Reich, boss of the Colts. “Few things stir the human heart and soul like injustice. When we see it, feel it, experience it, it is heart-wrenching. It is not enough for a person who looks like me (white) to say, ‘I am not a racist.’ Racism is vile, deplorable, detestable. There is no form of it that is acceptable, and in no way can it be justified.”

Marchers in hundreds of cities were enraged by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. Floyd had not resisted arrested, was lying on the ground face down with one policeman pressing on his neck with his knee for more than eight minutes while the dying man gasped out, “I can’t breathe.”

In Indianapolis a little more than a week ago, Chris Beaty, a former IU player, popular as a businessman and football supporter, was shot and killed, wounding his friend Allen.

Reich’s National Football League players are professionals, adults, and it is projected the 2020 season roster composition will be 80% African-American. There can’t be second-class citizens in the trenches if you are working for a common cause.

“I just cannot be silent,” was part of a statement Reich delivered during a Zoom news conference that was all about daily life and only minimally about football life.

Reich said he called some players and it was clear “the pain is real. As their friend, as their coach, I in some ways feel that for them.”

Allen’s players are younger. They are students at IU, on loan from parents, from homes where he sat in the living room and asked them to put their boys of 18 in his hands so he could return them as men of 22.

“The dialogue is continuous with our guys,” Allen said. “We’re here for them.”

Reich is 58. Allen is 50. Both are middle-aged white men. Can they relate to black players who have encountered unfair abuse and discrimination, who try to lead clean lives, yet fear being a target as they walk down the street?

Some people are naturally sensitive and broadly aware. Some people are indifferent to others and blinded by privileged lives, insulated by money, not only skin color.

Coaches are guidance counselors who must be governed by fairness. If the sincerity they espouse is genuine, not manufactured, players can read that.

Allen spoke of it being “a tumultuous time in this country.” No one disputes that. Challenges come along that must be confronted, and he urged players to know themselves so they are ready to call upon reservoirs of inner strength when needed.

“That’s why you have to live your life with core principles and core values,” Allen said. “We’re helping them form that foundation. Trust in something bigger than you. It’s a really heavy thing. It’s real life. It makes football seem trivial.”

An event must be of monumental scale for a football coach to call his sport trivial. Colin Kaepernick sacrificed the last few years of his career for kneeling during the National Anthem starting in 2016, boycotted for delivering an uncomfortable message.

The country is in crisis and what is happening now is historic, a long-overdue movement based on decency. The shame is it took Americans so long to get here.

No posts to display