When Danny Gonzales took over as the new head football coach at the University of New Mexico in December, he said people would be seeing a lot more of his friend and former teammate Brian Urlacher. Little did Gonzales know that within a year he would be in the middle of a rift between his team and the legendary Bears linebacker.
Urlacher weighed in last week on social media about the Aug. 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. While the Lobo great was apparently trying to make a point about dedication to one’s sport, his blaming Blake and failing to acknowledge police brutality against people of color – as protests cover our nation – was tone deaf. Lobo players were incensed.
“Brett Favre played the (Monday Night Football) game the day his dad died, threw 4 TDs in the first half, and was a legend for playing in the face of adversity,” Urlacher posted on Instagram. “NBA players boycott the playoffs because a dude reaching for a knife, wanted on a felony sexual assault warrant, was shot by police.”
While everything Urlacher posted may technically be true (the investigation is still underway), there’s the undeniable fact that Blake was shot seven times in the back at close range by Kenosha police.
Gonzales wisely did not shy away from the flap and held an impromptu virtual team meeting Thursday to allow players to talk about Urlacher’s comments. Gonzales says he told his team he knows Urlacher well and that the Pro Football Hall of Famer isn’t a racist. Nonetheless, he said his players want to talk to Urlacher and ask him questions, so he’s reached out to Urlacher to schedule a meeting. “That’s the right approach to have because if you shut somebody out, you’re not helping the cause. Being able to talk and open those dialogues is the best way to move forward,” Gonzales says. Amen.
Gonzales has thus far handled the dustup between his players and the football program’s greatest player ever – not to mention a major benefactor – with the skills of a seasoned U.N. diplomat. Giving Urlacher the chance to explain himself, and the players the opportunity to ask him questions, is exactly the proper approach. Those with disagreements today too often talk past each other, intent on making rhetorical points rather than considering common ground. Gonzales has offered a game plan we could all learn from.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.