Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
University of New Mexico’s football players said in a statement Friday they “vehemently condemn” comments made by former Lobo star Brian Urlacher, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who was critical of National Basketball Association players boycotting games.
UNM head coach Danny Gonzales, who was a teammate of Urlacher’s in the late 1990s, held an impromptu team meeting via Zoom on Thursday so that players could talk about Urlacher’s comments. The Lobos also met inside the football stadium on Friday morning when they decided to release a joint statement.
Urlacher posted a message Thursday on Instagram in reference to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin:
As a Chicago Bears fan and big fan of 54, this is tough to see. I wish Brian Urlacher was smart enough to realize that Brett Favre’s dad passing and Racism are not the same thing. pic.twitter.com/bVvlqkEKjf
— Bo Tilly 🇰🇷🤙🏾 (@BoTilly) August 27, 2020
“Brett Favre played the MNF (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.
“NBA players boycott the playoffs because a dude reaching for a knife, wanted on a felony sexual assault warrant, was shot by police.”
Gonzales said several players told him Urlacher’s comments were hurtful. And UNM wide receiver Elijah Lilly, running back Daevon Vigilant and former quarterback Lamar Jordan took to Twitter on Thursday to express their disdain for Urlacher’s words.
During a previously planned UNM Athletics rally for equality at the Pit parking lot Friday, Gonzales said, “I know Brian; he’s not a racist. I shared that with our football team.
“There were a lot of comments of, ‘Coach, he’s one of us and we’d like to talk to him.’ We’ll go forward with that. 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 said he spoke with Urlacher on Thursday. Gonzales said he is arranging an opportunity for Urlacher to speak to the Lobos players, be it virtually, or in person, so that they can ask him questions.
Urlacher could not be reached for comment on Thursday or Friday.
Gonzales said he isn’t worried that Urlacher’s comments could damage his recruiting efforts, which have been one of the bright spots during Gonzales’ first year with the Lobos amid the challenges of restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic.
Normally, the Lobos football players would have been preparing for their season opener, which had been scheduled for Saturday in Albuquerque, but their fall season was postponed because of COVID-19.
Instead, many of the players were with fellow UNM student-athletes Friday at the Pit parking lot, drawing images representing social equality on the pavement. Ultimately, they filled out lettering that spelled out: “End Racism. Inequality.” The event had been scheduled since Tuesday, before Urlacher made his comments.
Across the street, at Dreamstyle Stadium, a large photo of Urlacher could be seen on a stadium pillar.
Urlacher’s photograph is also displayed prominently in front of the Tow Diehm facility, and the Lobos’ indoor practice facility was named after the famed Chicago Bears linebacker and College Football Hall of Famer upon his $500,000 donation in 2009.
UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez would not address whether the university is contemplating any action regarding Urlacher’s images at the school.
“Everyone has their opportunity to say what they feel – freedom of speech,” Nuñez said. “I speak for myself and our department. For us that’s not who we are. That’s his right and that’s how he feels. For our department I stand by what our student-athletes said today and I support them.”
Both Gonzales and UNM senior offensive lineman Teton Saltes said Urlacher’s comments were insensitive.
“They were insensitive given the current racial and political climate that exists right now,” said Saltes, who was the lone UNM player made available to the media. “It wasn’t good timing at all. It’s fine to have an opinion. But when you have a platform that big it’s kind of a duty and obligation to make sure that you’re approaching that in the right matter; otherwise you’re going to get huge backlash, which is what we’re seeing right now.”
The Chicago Bears released a statement that said: “The social media posts in no way reflect the values or opinions of the Chicago Bears organization.”
Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back seven times by Kenosha police during an arrest on Sunday night. He remains in the hospital, and according to media reports the family has said the shooting would likely leave him paralyzed from the waist down.
The incident has set off various protests across the nation and in the sports world, with players from the Women’s National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer also boycotting games.
President Donald Trump also made remarks critical of the NBA on Thursday.
“People are tired of the NBA,” Trump said. “They’ve become like a political organization and that’s not a good thing. I don’t think that’s a good thing for sports or for the country.”
Urlacher also came under fire on social media this week when he allegedly liked a social media post calling for the release of Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teenager who is accused of killing two protesters this week in Kenosha.