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UL football head coach Billy Napier, shown here marching with Ragin' Cajuns athletes last Friday, has weighed in on many aspects of the walk this week.

On Friday, UL’s football team marched to increase awareness for the need of racial justice and equality in America.

On Monday, UL coach Billy Napier expressed pride and approval for that march, except for the group making one of its stops near the Lafayette Police Department.

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.”

What happens next will be interesting to follow.

As Napier revealed in Monday’s Zoom meeting with the local media, his team experienced vocal opposition during the walk — both from vehicles and on social media — as well as varying levels of disappointment and anger since it ended.

Caleb Glenn, one of the leaders of the march, said Friday the team “has a stronger bond than most people think.”

After debating the pros and cons of the issue for more a half hour, Napier strongly declared that his team will stand together.

“I think the big thing here is I’m not going to allow anybody to divide our team,” he said. “It’s OK for me to disagree. I don’t like a lot of things, but I also have an unbelievable love and passion for our players.”

Perhaps it’ll be difficult over the next few months to accurately detect the on-the-field impact the march’s controversy will have on the 2020 Ragin’ Cajuns.

After all, fans will be limited because of COVID-19 restrictions to begin with. Furthermore, this could be the season UL football fans have been waiting for since Ronald Reagan was president.

One thing is for sure, it appears the coaching staff, players and help staff involved with the program have made some connections during this period of social upheaval in this country.

“We’ve had powerful dialogue among our football organization, and we’ve all grown during these challenging times,” Napier said. “I’m proud of the lessons that we’ve learned and I’m proud of our players for their thoughts and their transparency — their trust and respect in each other and our staff.

“We say all the time, that any issue you’ve had in your life comes down to trust or communication. I think that was another critical point for our team. Going forward, we’ve got to have great trust, and we’ve got to continue to have great communication.”

In an era where political sides aren’t close to agreeing on anything, Napier suggests the culture of his team has taken a different approach.

“I think it’s critical,” Napier said. “Not everybody’s going to agree with everything, but the ability to respect one another’s opinion is extremely important. I’m proud of our players for doing that. I’m proud of the body of work that we have here as a program since we’ve arrived. I think they’ve shown courage, I think they’ve shown maturity and a great deal of thought in the way that they’ve responded.”

Napier also revealed the internal struggle within himself. On one hand, he recognizes lingering examples of social injustice. On the other, he still has great respect for law enforcement.

“It’s been difficult on me and I’m 41 years old,” he said. “I’m a grown man, got a wife and a family and it’s been very much a challenge. But I think our players have shown maturity, I do think they’ve shown professionalism, they’ve been thoughtful, they’ve been intentional, and they’ve shown class in lots of things they’ve done in their actions and in their response.”

Napier’s gotten responses from outside Cajun Country as well, adding to his personal conflicts on these social issues.

“Several of my former teammates in high school and college have chosen to go that route in their lives,” he said. “Some of my recent conversations with those people have given me a very unique perspective, going all the way back to the spring time.”

While he acknowledged a “mistake” was made Friday, Napier also reminded us the march was part of a bigger plan.

“We’ve got a very specific plan and we’re going to execute that plan,” he said.

Also part of that plan was the team donating to the blood drive “after finding out there was a shortage in our community as a result of COVID-19 and (Hurricane Laura)."

Members of the team will also be collecting food and cleaning supplies to bring to Lake Charles on Saturday. Other community service projects will also be taking place Saturday, including some police ride-arounds.

And it’s not complete, junior running back T.J. Wisham hopes the impact of the unity march reaches even more ears.

“I definitely feel like more people are hearing it, but it’s time for the right people to hear it, the people who are in a position of power,” Wisham said. “I pray our governor is hearing it, I pray our mayor, Josh Guillory, is hearing it, I pray the police chief is hearing it, I pray the sheriff department is hearing it. This is our day-to-day lives. We’re pushing for change, and we’re hoping they’re acting on the things we’re pushing for because they see it in their hearts that it’s the right thing.”

Certainly, there are multiple messages available when pondering this event.

Napier used Monday’s teleconference to deliver one of his most poignant positions.

“For someone to look at one of our players and see that their skin is black and tell them they’re inferior is the same as seeing a policeman on the corner that has a uniform on and assuming that guy has bad intentions,” Napier said.

Indeed, the opinions on both sides could afford to mix in a lot more perspective somewhere in the middle of all that passion.


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.