MINNEAPOLIS - University of Minnesota men’s basketball coach Ben Johnson said Monday he plans to have a team meeting with his players that are on campus, but the topic won’t be basketball.
Sports seem secondary after Daunte Wright was fatally shot by police in Brooklyn Center on Sunday afternoon. The incident, much like it did with George Floyd’s death in south Minneapolis last May, sparked protests and rioting in its immediate aftermath. Brooklyn Center city officials said Monday it appears the officer who shot Wright had intended to reach for her Taser, and instead grabbed her gun.
The incident comes as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is on trial for Floyd’s death, with tensions high in the Twin Cities. Johnson, the third Black head coach for the Gophers and currently the third Black head coach in the Big Ten, wants there to be open dialogue with his players when they’re out in public.
Johnson was an assistant coach for Richard Pitino in 2016, when Philando Castile was fatally shot by police during a traffic stop. Johnson says player safety, on and off the court, is a priority every day.
"It’s tough because it is something that, as a head coach, you think and you worry about. Our guys are obviously old enough to drive and will be in cars and will be out in the streets and in the city and be normal day-to-day citizens. It is something that I think you always have in the back of your mind. Have we done enough as a staff to inform our guys on the realities of what’s going on?" Johnson said. "You’re not always going to be 100 percent safe, but are there little steps you can take to put yourself in the best position so that there are no issues, whether that’s with police, whether that’s just with being a citizen downtown, just going about your day to day business. Always trying to inform our guys about what’s been going on and give them information on how to be safe in general."
Sunday’s incident sparked looting in Brooklyn Center, as well as on Lake Street in Minneapolis, like it did after Floyd’s death. As a result, the Minnesota Twins, Wild and Timberwolves all postponed games scheduled for Monday, both out of respect for Wright’s family and out of caution due to fears of civil unrest.
At the University of Minnesota, the Gophers football team initiated a HERE (Helping End Racism through Education) to address social justice issues after Floyd’s death. Rashod Bateman wore the number 0 last year to promote zero tolerance for racism.
Johnson’s current roster with the Gophers includes at least four of color: Both Gach, Isaiah Ihnen, Brandon Johnson and Eric Curry, who is expected to stay as a graduate assistant coach. Johnson says the lines of communication are always open, and that’s critical.
"It’s important to have that open talk, that dialogue and that direct line of communication so that everybody is comfortable with what we’re all facing and get everything out on the table and talk about it as a team," Johnson said.