Photo from Kevin Fielder/Fifth Quarter

For Florida Atlantic head coach Willie Taggart, the conversation about the recent events regarding racial injustice and police brutality started at home.

About two weeks ago, in the heat of the unrest following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Taggart’s oldest son Willie Taggart Jr., an incoming freshman at FAU, asked his father if he could attend a protest.

“For me, it started with my son. Willie, an incoming freshman here, coming and asking me if I would be upset if he went and protested,” Taggart said in a teleconference with the media. “I told him I wouldn’t be upset. I just want to make sure he understands what he’s protesting, what he believes. If you believe in something, stand for it and I’m going to back him… I knew if my son asked me that, I could only imagine what our team was going through.”

Straight From The Heart

With that thought, Taggart held a Zoom meeting with his players. In the meeting, they were able to speak from their hearts and share their thoughts.

“We had a Zoom call with our football team. It was a really good Zoom meeting — one of my best as a football coach,” Taggart explained. “It was a meeting where I told our players we weren’t here to judge or critique anybody. … Our guys spoke up, they talked and they said what was on their hearts and minds. It wasn’t just our black kids; it was our white kids, it was our white coaches, our black coaches. … [The players] talked about making a change. They wanted to know how to make change.”

Real-Life Wednesday

The meeting led to Taggart and his staff creating a new platform called ‘Real-Life Wednesday’. The goal is to help their players take action and make a change.

“We talked about, as a staff, what are some things we can to help our players,” Taggart said. “We came up with what we call ‘Real-Life Wednesday’. On Real-Life Wednesday, we do things other than just football. Just really helping our kids, our young men grow, educate them on life lessons.”

The topic for the first ‘Real-Life Wednesday’ for Taggart and his staff was making sure his players were registered to vote. According to Taggart, every player, who was on campus for camp, came in and registered to vote if they had not already.

“That was great because a lot of our players said they probably would not have voted if we wouldn’t have suggested that,” explained Taggart. “We wanted to take it a little further than that and not just tell our guys to go vote and half of them don’t really understand how to vote or what they’re voting for. So, we wanted to make sure we educate them on pretty much civics and make sure they know what they’re voting for. Making sure they’re not voting just because someone has an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ beside their name.”

Along with making sure his players are registered to vote, Taggart brought in Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer for a Zoom call. Along with Singer, Taggart intends to bring in multiple other elected officials. Even included on the guest lists will be local police chiefs to help spring conversations.

“This week, we’re going to have our police chief,” Taggart said. “I know our school police chief, the Delray Beach police chief and we’re trying to get our Boca [Raton] police chief to all come together and talk to our guys and try to help educate them.”

The impact of social media

Social media is also a part of the education for Taggart and his staff. For Taggart, he believes that it is important to find the balance between representing the football team and also speaking up for what you believe in.

“I think it’s always an educational thing, and if guys feel strongly about something, they should fight for what they believe in,” Taggart said. “…For all of them, they just have to understand that consequences are going to come, whatever that is. But they shouldn’t be afraid to speak if they feel strongly about something. I think social media allows them to voice their opinions on things. I also think that they are a part of a team, and they have to do what’s best for our football team. We all have to do what’s best for our football team.”

Taggart also believes that social media has had an impact on the response of nation-wide protests following the death of Floyd.

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“I think social media plays a big part in it because people can listen to them,” Taggart said. “Before, you didn’t know who has listening or if they were listening at it all. … I think throughout it all, it’s very important that everyone is listening and learning.”

With the start of camp set for August, many players may turn their entire focus to football. For Taggart, it’s important that he and his coaching staff, along with the players, take time out of the season to talk about things outside of football.

“I think it got to be a part of your meetings and things that you do,” Taggart said. “You gotta put it in place, so that you don’t just put it on the back burner. … That’s also a part of player development too. In real life, it’s all about the development of our players and I think sometimes, that gets lost in football. We can’t do this to our young people because it is bigger than just football.”