Former Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer described the killing of George Floyd as “absolutely horrific” and said racism “must be addressed” during a televised speech to the Ohio high school class of 2020 on Saturday night.
Serving as the keynote speaker for a televised commencement special that was broadcast on WBNS-10TV in Columbus and other local networks across the state of Ohio, Meyer began his speech by addressing last week's killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, which has led to protests around the country and a nationwide conversation on racism.
“One of the most horrific videos surfaced last week in front of our very eyes,” Meyer said. “A black man, George Floyd, died at the hands of a police officer as others watched. This video was absolutely horrific. People across our nation were enraged, and rightfully so.
“I grew up in a much less complicated world, or at least it seemed to be. But today your challenges are as complicated as ever, in the history of our country. Challenges of politics, racism, relationship with law enforcement, financial hardships, mental health and a pandemic among many more.
“Our nation has made great progress in providing opportunity, freedom and prosperity to all people. Yet after these events of this past week, there’s obviously so much more work to be done. Racism exists. It’s evil, it’s real and it must be addressed. Those who violate our basic human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness need to be held accountable. Justice must prevail.”
Meyer said that during his years as a football coach and player, he “was very fortunate, mostly because of the nature of athletics, to never look at one of my teammates, players or staff as black, Hispanic, Polynesian, white or any other race. We respected each person’s journey and embraced their unique stories.” He also acknowledged, though, that he heard about many examples of his racism from his players and coaches, and wanted to make it clear on Saturday that he stands with all members of the black community.
“I want you to know, I stand with you. I feel your pain,” Meyer said. “I speak for so many of my colleagues in the coaching profession that we are deeply concerned and want to make a difference. The ultimate job of any leader is to provide those you lead with hope and opportunity. Invest in their future. Our players became family, and we had the privilege to love, protect and develop these young men.
“I was also very fortunate to be raised in a family of faith. I believe trusting in God is an important part of the solution going forward. Our prayers and thoughts are with the family of George Floyd. Our prayers and thoughts also go to the people that suffer from racism, for the men and women in law enforcement that put themselves in harm’s way to protect us, and for those that have been impacted by the civil unrest.”
Meyer said it's up to the high school graduates who he was addressing on Saturday night to be a part of the solution and help end racism.
“Each generation of our country’s history has had significant challenges to overcome. This is your time, this is your generation and this is your country,” Meyer said. “The issues are very complicated and serious. I, we believe in you. We ask you to step up to the challenges, find solutions and help our nation build a culture of respect for all.”
The rest of Meyer's speech on Saturday night centered around Ohio State's 2014 run to the national championship, as he shared some of the messages he has previously shared with his football teams and at coaches' clinics about how to build an elite team.
“The summer of 2014, I knew we had a very talented yet inexperienced team. The message to that team all summer was that if we as teammates could solve the mystery, we could become this elite team. The mystery we spoke of was how to put others ahead of self,” Meyer said. “For example, you want to be a great husband? Put your wife ahead of self. You want to be a great parent? Put your children ahead of self. You want to be a great teammate? You put your teammates ahead of self. That's extremely easy to say, very, very difficult to do.”
As part of an approximately eight-minute speech about that season, Meyer talked in detail about the way Cardale Jones grew from an immature third-string quarterback to a leader who carried the Buckeyes to a national title.
“The next day after the national championship game, I head downstairs to go have breakfast as we prepare to leave and head back to Columbus, Ohio as national champions,” Meyer said. “I walk in the breakfast room, there's Cardale Jones sitting with a couple players, I head over and sit down. I just stare at Cardale, and I said, 'Cardale, what was that? What happened? Explain to me your transformation to be the leader you became to go down in history as a national champion quarterback.’ He looked me right in the eye, two tears started to roll down his cheeks and he said, 'Coach, I finally figured out how to solve the mystery. The mystery is how do I put others ahead of self? I figured that out. I never wanted to let my brothers down, I could not let my brothers down, Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett.”
In closing, Meyer told the Ohio high school class of 2020 to “have confidence in the objective truth that hard work will always be rewarded.”
“Respect all, make a difference and let's do our best our state to make the great state of Ohio proud in all that you do,” Meyer said.
Saturday night's special also featured brief video messages from many other current and former Ohio State coaches and athletes including Jones, Chris Holtmann, Jack Nicklaus, Archie Griffin, Eddie George, Clark Kellogg, Kirk Herbstreit, Katie Smith, Jim Tressel and John Cooper, who all shared their congratulations with the class of 2020.