Big East assistants form Coaches For Action, fighting for social change

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It started the way everything in the COVID-19 era starts: With a group chat and a zoom call.

Before long, all 21 of the minority assistant coaches in the Big East were involved and Coaches For Action formed. This comes of the heels of the formation of the Coaches Coalition For Progress, a similar organization that was launched last month by Oklahoma assistant coach Carlin Hartman and San Francisco head coach Todd Golden, among others.

Inspired by the protests following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Taylor, Marquette’s Dwayne Killings, UConn’s Kimani Young and Villanova’s Kyle Neptune got to work trying to find a way to do more than release a statement or post a black square on Instagram.

“We all shared emotions of disappointment, frustration, confusion,” Young said. “We said we have to lean on each other, figure out a way to get our voices heard.”

The consensus among the coaches was immediate: “We gotta do something.” As Killings put it, “sustainable, substantive change. … Something for our players, to represent them and give them something to stand on.”

Coaches For Action is the by-product, and in the weeks since Killings, Young and Neptune first started hatching the plan, head coaches, athletic directors and the Big East Conference as a whole have given CFA their blessings.

As of today, there are three clearly-defined initiatives that CFA has outlined:

1. Get a Black Lives Matter patch put on the jerseys for all 11 programs and allow the coaches to wear Black Lives Matter pins. Not only will this be a show of unity among the teams in the conference, it will help maintain awareness for the movement. BLM is at the forefront of the news every day today. But there are no sports on right now. The most important and covered election of a generation will occur in November. Big East play will start, at the earliest, in January. The BLM movement may need publicity at that point.

2. “The voting initiative,” as Young put it. Educate their players on the importance of voting, not just in the major elections but on a local level, because “that is how you affect change and impact legislation at local levels,” Young said.

But more broadly, Coaches For Action is pushing for each basketball program — and their university — to host a voter registration drive in October. The goal would be to expand this beyond the confines of their respective campuses. DePaul is in Chicago. Marquette is in Milwaukee. Villanova is one of Philadelphia’s Big 5 programs. Xavier is in Ohio. These are places where communities of color can have a tangible impact on the outcome of elections.

“We can do all that ourselves,” Young said. “You don’t need a ton of money or resources to get with city councilmen and pull that together.”

3. A minority scholarship that will be given annually to a first-generation college student at the Big East schools. The CFA members have already contributed their own money to the fund, and you better believe they will be pushing their head coaches, ADs and athletic departments to donate as well.

The Big East has yet to formally put out a statement regarding CFA, but according to a source, the conference fully supports every initiative. Official confirmation is expected soon, and it’s worth noting here that in an era where just eight of the 65 head coaches at Power Five schools are black, the Big East has five black head coaches.

The impact of CFA will likely be felt around the nation. While they may be the first conference to confirm that every team in their league will be wearing a Black Lives Matter patch this season, they likely will not be the last. Members of CFA have reached out to coaches in different leagues, on the women’s side and in different sports about joining.

“Timing is the most important part,” Young said, “and we just felt like our voices needed to be heard.”