Huskies coach Chris Petersen had watched The Seattle Times’ video series “Under Our Skin” this summer and invited one of the series’ central figures to speak to the team about issues that go deeper than football: race and racism.
As they dive deeper into the college football season, the Huskies will become, in Chris Petersen’s words, “myopically focused” on the weekly routine of preparing for Saturdays: game plans, practices, film study, game day. Lather, rinse, repeat for 12 weeks.
To kick off the first week of the season, however, Petersen threw his team a curveball. The Huskies coach had watched The Seattle Times’ video series “Under Our Skin” this summer and invited one of the series’ central figures to speak to the team Sunday about issues that go deeper than football: race and racism.
Bishop Greg Rickel was surprised to get the invitation from Petersen. The perspective he presented was even more startling to many on the team.
Rutgers at Washington, 11 a.m., Pac-12
“What impressed me with Coach Petersen was that he had watched those videos … and the thought that this was enough of a topic to him that it was worth exploring and trying to figure out, ‘How can we be a model of change?’ ” said Rickel, head of the Episcopal Church in Western Washington. “And that’s a pretty bold thing to do.”
Rickel grew up as a white Southerner and describes himself as a “recovering racist.” He shared that, and what that meant to him, with the 100 or so players seated in a UW team room on Sunday.
“I really believe,” he said, “that we need more white males to give their perspective. … This solution has to be a white solution. We keep thinking it’s going to be the communities of color that are going to solve it. Really, it’s ours to solve.”
As part of his “Built For Life” program, designed to mold players into well-rounded “real men,” Petersen often brings in guest speakers to address the team, be they former players or financial planners for “Real Life Wednesday” get-togethers. This one was quite different than most.
“It definitely made us uncomfortable — it’s an uncomfortable topic for everyone,” said Greg Gaines, a sophomore defensive tackle. “But I liked it. He forced us to think like real men. …
“He was talking mostly about systemic racism and how we’re privileged and how that affects everyone else around you, even when you don’t notice it’s happening. As a white male, you don’t notice that you have privilege. And if someone takes offense to it, you’re like, ‘What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything wrong.’ So he told us that we have to notice when someone else takes offense to something and change that in the future.”
While uncomfortable for many, the issues of race and racism are important and topical, Petersen said.
“I thought (the presentation) was very good because it wasn’t cookie-cutter,” he said. “It was unique and it was different, and that’s what I wanted. I know there were some guys going, ‘OK, that was good.’ And some others were going, ‘What?’ ”
Colin Kaepernick’s national-anthem protest didn’t come up during Rickel’s presentation, but Petersen said he has talked to some players about that.
“I pay attention to this stuff,” Petersen said. “There’s a lot of things I don’t get — I can’t get — from my background. But I understand the statement that Kaepernick is making and how it can be polarizing. So how do you do something that’s good for society? Those are some of the things we talk about.”
What was Rickel hoping to achieve Sunday?
“What I tried to do was tell them, this 45-minute talk is not going to do much of anything — except maybe, hopefully, provide to them the need to continue the conversation,” he said. “One white player asked a really good, honest, courageous question: ‘How can I know when I’m doing things or saying things I should say? How can I know that?’ And I said, ‘You’ve got to have your brothers in this room, friends, colleagues that you’ve talked to beforehand and tell them, ‘I want you to tell me — I trust you to tell me.’ And that’s the only way it’s going to work.”
UW linebacker Keishawn Bierria said that’s one thing he appreciates about Petersen — that he creates an atmosphere where players are expected to bond with each other. At any point, players may be quizzed about a random teammate’s background — What’s his birthday? Where’s his hometown? — and players often talk about the team’s “family” feeling.
“Especially on a team like this, because dudes are already close, and to go deeper — we have these types of conversations one-on-one with some of our guys — we have a lot of trust with each other,” Bierria said. “And for that type of conversation (with Rickel) to occur in a team-type situation, it was different. But I think a lot of guys learned from it. He really did have some truth to what he was saying, and I know a lot of guys are not as educated about these certain things coming from certain situations.”
Rickel said he was encouraged when a group of players expressed interest in continuing the conversation with him later.
“I would be glad to keep working with them, any of them that want to email or call — just to talk.”