On May 25th George Floyd, an unarmed 46 year old black man, was killed by police who were responding to a call from a local merchant who suspected that Floyd was trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, held his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while he was handcuffed face down on the pavement. An autopsy determined that this pressure on Floyd’s neck caused his death. The incident was ruled a homicide and Chauvin was eventually charged with second degree murder. There were three other officers at the scene who were determined by authorities to have been involved to varying degrees in the murder and they have all been charged with aiding and abetting a murder.
This case has gained national attention in part because of the fact that Floyd’s death was recorded by a seventeen year old bystander and her video evidence quickly went viral. The circumstances of the killing were so upsetting (and heart-breakingly familiar) that the tragedy has inspired protests in the streets of cities across the nation.
Many people have had to consider and reflect about what this terrible incident means for our nation. The Florida State women’s basketball team is no different in this regard. Tomahawk Nation recently had an opportunity to catch up with Head coach Sue Semrau to discuss the incident and how the team is coping with it.
Semrau explained her reaction:
“I made myself watch the (Floyd killing) video in its entirety rather than just what the media wants to put out there. And I wish everybody had to do that because it was way worse than what a little byte would (convey). I feel so, so sorry for this whole thing. It’s almost like there’s this barge in the sea and its trying to turn and it feels this time a little bit more that there’s a chance that the turn will be stronger and harder but it’s still a barge in the sea trying to turn.”
The team had a previously scheduled a zoom meeting to discuss issues pertaining to the pandemic but Floyd’s killing happened in the interim. It was important for Semrau to express to the team how much she cared about how this tragedy was impacting them. As she told them, “I can’t imagine how you as black women feel and what your emotions are. I want to hear that.”
The team responded openly and honestly with their true feelings. “It was so educational for not just the white players on the team and the white coaches on the staff but the internationals... we have a Brazilian (Izabela Nicoletti), someone from the UK (Savannah Wilkinson), someone from Finland (newcomer Sara Bejedi). It really sparked some important dialogue.”
Newcomer Erin Howard (transfer from Auburn) participated in the protest marches in her hometown.
The team has been having similar conversations for the past three or four years. Semrau recently received a message from former player Chatrice White (Shelby, NE) thanking the coach for having those conversations.
“I was able to reach out to my black friends and teammates to tell them that I am standing with them.” White said.
Semrau explained, “I feel like that is what I have a platform to do… to start conversation, to allow conversation and to educate because there are so many people who come from so many different places.”
“I think the main thing is that I want this to be about coaches being willing to have conversations. We have the platform to create space for that. It’s what we do going forward with this… what we continue to talk about.”
Semrau related a revealing statement from one of the players:
“One player said that ‘if I ever got pulled over the first person I’d call would be Coach Sue because she is a white woman in power who has my back’ .”
“I had never thought about it that way. I had never thought about being able to possibly protect someone in our family because of the color of my skin. It really hit me hard. I want more people to feel like we can protect each other but we can also work toward change.”