The Virginia Commonwealth University Rams are returning to campus this week as they prepare for the upcoming school year and their first season under head coach Mike Rhoades.
When the team finally comes together, Rhoades plans to address what’s gone on in Charlottesville, 72 miles northwest of campus, and the ensuing controversy about the fate of Confederate monuments -- a discussion that has made its way to VCU’s home in Richmond.
“I want to know how they’re feeling,” Rhoades told Mid-Major Madness. “To me, I want to make sure all our players know that they can come and talk to our staff about this stuff.”
Rhoades and his staff understand the situation they have found themselves in. The VCU roster is predominantly African-American, and it stands to reason that players may be returning to campus not only with concerns, but perhaps with a desire to speak out.
Rhoades would not discourage it.
“We want you to be a part of the team, but we also want you to be able to know you can express how you feel, especially against injustice,” he said. “We won’t allow that in our program — why should we allow that in our society?”
Being a college basketball coach, Rhoades has a unique platform from which to speak. Unlike talking heads on TV, he has an audience — the VCU fanbase and college basketball fans nationwide — that spans the political spectrum and comes from a variety of backgrounds.
So, in an interview with Mid-Major Madness, Rhoades did not hesitate to say that he would support removing the Confederate monuments in Richmond. There are currently five along a two-mile stretch of Monument Avenue, and they depict Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and others, according to NBC News.
“We don’t need a place for anything to stand that held people back and showed inequality,” he said. “No matter what it is. People’s approach, their words, statues, banners, whatever it is, I think there’s no need for that at all.”
Ultimately it comes back to what Rhoades views is his job as a coach — to not just lead the team on the court, but to set an example off of it. While he acknowledged that his players would likely react to current events differently, each has the responsibility to do what they think is right.
For some, that could mean speaking up, not only on the events in Charlottesville or the controversy in their home town, but on any issue they are passionate about.
“If there’s something you believe in and it can help people, you better step up,” he said.