Alabama’s head football coach Nick Saban is tied with the legendary late coach Paul “Bear” Bryant when it comes to the numbers of national championships. But in terms of moral leadership Saban is doubtlessly #1!
Nick Saban led a march of Alabama athletes on August 31st, 2020 that put an exclamation mark on his previous statements on racial equality and justice. The March event was in response to a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin having shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back on August 23rd. Blake’s shooting inspired protests throughout the country that were similar to those that occurred after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020. Floyd had died after a police officer had held him in a choke hold for over eight minutes. His crime was passing a counterfeit $20 bill.
Saban made a statement on racial justice after Floyd’s death: “We’re at an important moment for our country, and now is the time for us to choose kindness, tolerance, understanding, empathy, and most importantly … it’s time to love each other. Every life is precious, and we must understand we have so many more things that unite us than divide us.”
Former Alabama football safety Rashad Johnson had declared, “A change will and is coming!!” He was joined by Offensive Lineman Chris Owns who said “Change is coming from this generation whether you like it or not. Enough is enough.”
We are a team, Black, white and brown. Together, we are a family. We are brothers who represent ourselves, our families, our hometowns, our university and our country.
We stand on the shoulders of giants — our grandparents and parents, our ancestors, our heroes and Alabama alumni, and former players who have changed the world. Beginning on our historic campus, we speak as one, acknowledging our history, honoring their legacy and building a better, more just future.
Saban’s participation in the march after Blake’s shooting from the Mal Moore Athletic Facility to Foster Auditorium on August, 31st, 2020, was a dramatic symbol of generational change. Former Alabama Governor George Wallace‘s infamous June 11, 1963 “Stand In The Schoolhouse Door” had occurred at Foster Auditorium. Wallace had attempted to prevent the enrollment of two black students, James Hood and Vivian Malone. The Alabama National Guard had been activated by President John F. Kennedy to insure that the students would not be blocked. In his 1963 inaugural address Wallace had proclaimed that there would be “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” The many trophies from Saban’s era of football victories are enshrined at the athletic facility. Foster Auditorium is an National Historic Landmark.
Saban’s statement at the video press conference that occurred two days after the march was reported by Al.com‘s Mike Rodak:
We’re not letting this die. We’re making a list of things that our players can do and can encourage other people to do in our own community, some of which they mentioned on Monday.
So this is just not, ’We came over there on Monday and we had a march,’ and now it’s over. It’s, ’Hey, we challenged everybody to do things to make a difference and now we’re going to challenge ourselves to do the same things,’ me included. And everybody can do that in their own way.
During the live streamed video conference, a handful of people made comments that were highly critical of Saban. One of them posted, “Saban is going down with Black Lives Matter. F**k u.”
Saban was aware of the negative criticism of his advocacy for racial justice. He said:
I don’t have an opinion about everybody else’s opinion. I don’t have an opinion about — we try to do the right things. We try to provide positive leadership for our players. Like I said on Monday, we’re trying to elevate our players’ chances of having success in their life, through their personal development [and] academic support so they can graduate and develop a career, and what kind of career they can develop as a football player.
But a part of that is also providing leadership to elevate people around them by using their platform in a positive way.
Al.com‘s Joseph Goodman wrote:
There is only one thing stronger than racism in the state of Alabama, and that’s Crimson Tide football.
Racism doesn’t have Najee Harris in the backfield with Alex Leatherwood and Chris Owens blocking up front on the offensive line.
This summer, members of the Alabama football team — players who will go down as legends — have found a way to harness their team’s enormous power and use it like real-life superheroes in a fight against this state’s eternal evil.
The Tuscaloosa New‘s Gary Cosby, Jr. commented:
Just as all things that have happened under Saban’s watch have unfolded with class, so also this march and rally unfolded. It is a mark of his love for his players that he stood with them and offered the first speech in front of Foster Auditorium.
But some on social media cried out as if Saban had stabbed them in the heart because he stood at the forefront as his football team marched. They were, of course, angry that Saban was standing for social justice. I wonder, do they not realize, that if one does not stand up for social justice, he is actually standing up for discrimination? Is that really what these critics want?
The idea that the Alabama football team represented a “Crimson Tide” is attributed to the Birmingham News Sports Editor Hugh Roberts who used the term in his coverage of an Alabama-Auburn game played in Birmingham in 1907.
Martin Luther King, Jr. in his I Have A Dream speech on August 1963 at the March On Washington referred to a biblical passage in Amos 5:24: “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream!”
Under Nick Saban‘s leadership, perhaps a mighty Crimson Tide has washed away some of the University of Alabama‘s sins of the past and justice will finally roll down. There now actually may be a new meaning for the popular Alabama sports cheer Roll Tide Roll!