Former Washington State coach Mike Leach commended his Mississippi State football players for using their platform to make a stand against social injustice and police brutality after the Bulldogs boycotted preseason camp in Starkville Thursday.
“I am proud to be the Head Football Coach at Mississippi State,” Leach wrote in a tweet at 5:20 p.m. Pacific time Thursday. “I applaud our players for expressing some of their fears and anxieties today. I support them and look forward to working with them tomorrow, to use football to elevate us and the people around us. Hail State!”
Multiple professional sports leagues boycotted games Wednesday night, beginning with the Milwaukee Bucks, who didn’t show up to play the Orlando Magic in a first-round Eastern Conference matchup. That caused a domino effect not only in the NBA, but elsewhere in professional sports as games in Major League Baseball, the WNBA and MLS also went unplayed.
Leach, who left for MSU this offseason after eight years with the Cougars, departing as the third-winningest coach in school history, opened fall camp in Starkville on Aug. 18.
Rather than go through Air Raid passing drills and routine preseason camp work, MSU players gathered at a park in downtown Starkville where the town’s “Justice March” started in June, according to the Clarion Ledger. The Bulldogs also posed for a photo by a wall featuring plaques honoring various Civil Rights activists, such as John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and others, the newspaper reported.
At least three other FBS programs boycotted practices Thursday: Kentucky, South Florida and Boston College.
The recent wave of boycotts and protests are in response to a shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where police fired seven bullets into the back of a 29-year-old Black man, Jacob Blake.
Although Leach hasn’t coached a game in the SEC, his first seven months at Mississippi State have, unsurprisingly, been anything but dull. In April, the coach was heavily scrutinized for tweeting an internet meme that included an image of a noose.
Leach issued an apology for the incident, and MSU said the coach would take part in listening sessions with various people on campus. The school also said it would provide chances for the coach to “expand his cultural awareness of Mississippi.”
Only two months later, Leach joined Ole Miss football coach Lane Kiffin and a group of administrators from both schools that lobbied for the Confederate emblem to be removed from the state flag.
“The purpose of a state flag is to create pride and enthusiasm amongst the citizens,” Leach told ESPN. “It should also create great energy to elevate the economy, education and athletics. The current flag doesn’t do that. We need a state flag that everyone is proud of.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.