The title of “coach” directs most sports fans toward thoughts of qualities like leadership, order, and mentorship. Coaches sit atop a team’s strategic hierarchy. They’re supposed to be to be measured, sensible, and publicly inconsequential. Yet the very nature of their notoriety allows coaches to have influence when they do decide to venture outside the norms of their job.
Last week Danny Chau wrote about the importance of athletes like LeBron James and Kevin Durant using their powerful platforms to speak out, in this case against the white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the actions or inactions of the president.
Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale did the same and more. First, he spoke with journalist Wendi Thomas of MLK50: Justice through Journalism about his thoughts on the president and the Confederate monuments in the city of Memphis.
“Take ’em down. I don’t know what the hesitation is. I don’t know what we’re waiting on,” Fizdale said of the monuments. “Whatever gets those things down immediately, we got to do it. It splits people apart.”
Fizdale went on to call the monuments “a public safety hazard” and “a disgrace.” He challenged public officials to remove them and pointed out that having the monuments in the same city where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered and where the civil rights museum is located is a dichotomy that will only create conflict between communities instead of bringing them together.
He also referred to those supporting Trump’s comments on Charlottesville as “either just stupid or … sick,” saying that “there’s no way you can listen to those comments, agree with what he said, and do it with a common sense logic.”
Two days later, Fizdale went the extra mile, both literally and figuratively, taking pictures in front of Memphis’s monuments and posting them online with a message calling for their removal.
It’s evident that Fizdale believes he is responsible for being more than merely a basketball coach. He is the face of a franchise that is part of the city’s culture, and thus, someone who has more influence than the average resident. Throughout the interview, Fizdale referred to Memphis as “our city” and said that he didn’t want to sit on the sideline representing the team while the monuments, which he called “a black eye on our history,” continued to stand.
What Fizdale is doing isn’t just not sticking to sports. He’s actively trying to effect change through his platform. Fizdale isn’t just criticizing immaterial policies or actions by an administration; this moment is concrete. It is rare that activists can see the direct results of their actions, but in Confederate monuments, there is a clear and objective goal. Fizdale sees this, and he is going beyond his responsibilities to advocate for physical change.
This is nothing new for Fizdale who, since arriving in Memphis, has been active in speaking out against injustices such as police brutality. On the court, Fizdale has already proved himself as a head coach but now, off the court, it appears his spotlight is widening in just the right place and at just the right time.