It’s been said on multiple occasions that the real leaders in society show their true colors when called upon.
For Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt, those colors are a mix of courage and Tennessee Orange.
Pruitt said Thursday on a Zoom conference call with the media that he signed off on the players’ idea to not only wear the program’s alternate black jerseys on November 7 against the Kentucky Wildcats, but to auction off the jerseys after the game and donate the proceeds to Black Lives Matter or similar charities.
“When the game is over with, [we want to] find a way to auction the jerseys and raise money for Black Lives Matter,” Pruitt said during the call. “That is one thing our kids have talked about. It is something that is going to continue to be stressed within our staff.”
This isn’t set in stone just yet, but that doesn’t matter to Pruitt. His intentions are clear: He wants to support BLM and other charities/programs aimed at fighting racism and racial injustice in America. In return, the hope is that both issues can be eventually seen via the rearview mirror, not the windshield.
“In my lifetime, this is the first time I can ever remember, with all the things that are going on — not only from our country but from really our world — there is conversation on how to put measures in to create change,” Pruitt said. “Absolutely, I want to be an advocate of that and to support our players and use our platform at Tennessee to help create that.”
To go on the record and make this a public stance is not only admirable, but it takes tremendous courage. Sure, other coaches have expressed their intentions to help with these issues, but so far, I don’t know if any of them has taken this kind of step toward helping those who are trying to help the cause.
It doesn’t stop at Pruitt, either. He is making sure everyone associated with the Tennessee football program is lending a hand. Tee Martin is the head of Tennessee’s Culture Committee and assistant coaches Derrick Ansley and Brian Niedermeyer joined Pruitt and the players during a peaceful protest in downtown Knoxville on June 5.
But what may be most important out of all this is the fact that he listened to his players. It was their idea, and Pruitt went along with it.
He knows how important this is to a roster that is primarily composed of black players. He knows how important listening is to fixing the issue of racism/racial injustice. He knows that true change starts with those at the top and he’s not backing down.
Just looking at this from a football perspective makes all of the sense in the world, as well. You wanna talk about players buying into coaches and programs? Well, I can’t think of any better way for that to happen, honestly.
The players know that Pruitt undoubtedly has their back(s) after this decision.
“This is leadership,” Pruitt said during the protest on June 5. “This is doing it the right way. I want to thank everybody for coming out here today. You’re talking about courage, these guys stepping up, everybody out here — this is what we have to do, and we have to do it together.”
And together they will.
UPDATE: Assistant coach Tee Martin clarified on Friday via the Jason Swain show that the proceeds will go to local charities aimed involved with Black Lives Matter.