On Friday, UL’s football team marched in support of such principles as racial justice and equality on the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.
That night, head coach Billy Napier said his sleep didn’t go as well as normal.
Not because he disagreed with his team’s march. He just objected to one aspect of the team-organized event.
On Monday’s bi-weekly zoom meeting with the media, Napier expressed regret that the final stop on the march was near Lafayette Police Department offices.
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“There’s been probably three or four or five times — I can count them on my hand — where I laid my head down at night and I felt like I failed my team,” Napier said. “I think Friday … I felt that we did something wrong.”
Napier said when the team’s leaders approached him about the march earlier Friday, that was not part of their intentions.
“I thought we had a great unity walk," he stated. "We got to a point in the walk where we headed in the direction where the police department was. I didn’t anticipate our team (doing that), and they didn’t intend to stop at that police department.
“I’ve told them, and I feel really strongly about this.”
In fact, Napier said he addressed it in Saturday’s team meeting.
“I think that we need change,” Napier said. “I’ve often times found myself angry and frustrated with some of the social injustices and individual acts — individual acts — of police brutality that continue across our country. We need change and we need to take action. We need to continue to talk, we need to strategize, we need to push for equality.
“I also recognize and feel really strongly about that the large majority of police officers and law enforcement officials are unbelievable people. People that sacrifice each day to protect our community.”
Napier said the team’s march stopping “for 15 or 20 minutes” near the police department “is by no means a reflection or view of the men and women in that department.”
Also, Saturday’s meeting emphasized the flaw in rushes to judgment.
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“I think it’s wrong to rush to judgment and associate individual acts with a group of people,” Napier said. “Some of the things we experienced while we were walking on campus — people driving by yelling (despicable) things. They were White people. I just told the players, ‘Hey, does that mean I’m a bad guy? Right?’ There are bad people in every industry, every profession.
“There’s evil and there’s good. There’s learned behavior and there’s corrected behavior. I see it that way on our team, on our staff. I see it that way in my family. I see it that way in law enforcement. I see it that way in coaching.”
Napier said he felt the football program’s relationship with local law enforcement has been exemplary since he arrived three seasons ago and that “we’re going to do our part to re-establish the incredible relationship that we had with our local law enforcement. I get it. I have no issue with either side.”
Napier also said his program is built on having respect for authority.
“Respecting authority is a critical piece of what we do in our program, and law enforcement is part of that,” he said.
He had just spoken to him on the phone the day before.
Napier said other than the stop at the police station, he agreed with everything else his team did during the march.
“Everybody wants you to pick a side,” Napier said. “I pick my players, and I pick our law enforcement. I’ve got great respect for them. I know our team, I know their intentions and I know their heart. That’s authentic, it’s genuine and I hope you see someone who is owning what I thought was a mistake, and it was a mistake on a day where there were lots of great things that happened.
“It was a special day because it did create dialogue, it did create awareness. There was purpose and great intentions behind it.”