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Penn State's James Franklin 'gutted' by tragedies involving African-American victims

JOE JULIANO
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
James Franklin

Saying “my heart is broken, my beliefs have been challenged and my emotions are raw,” Penn State head football coach James Franklin released a statement Saturday expressing anger over the deaths of 46-year-old George Floyd and two other African-Americans, both of whom died of gunshot wounds, in recent months.

“I am gutted by this nation’s most recent tragedies and frustrated by our country’s inaction,” Franklin wrote on Twitter, a statement that he said was in honor of Floyd, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery and 26-year-old Breonna Taylor.

“It’s not only the tragic deaths of these individuals the last few weeks, it’s the smothering of hope and the suffocation of a dream that left me feeling so raw. These weren’t just people of color. These were Americans. These were citizens of our country and if we are to take a step forward, we cannot leave them behind.”

Floyd died Monday in police custody after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. Arbery was shot and killed on Feb. 23 while jogging near Brunswick, Ga. Taylor, an emergency medical technician, was killed March 13 after officers forced their way into her Louisville, Ky., home to serve a warrant.

“These senseless deaths are a symptom of a larger problem and in moments like this, silence is deafening indifference,” said Franklin, who is African-American and a native of Langhorne.

Franklin also said he was concerned for the members of his football team. One of them, defensive tackle Aeneas Hawkins, described on Twitter a tense situation he experienced May 23 with a white man who cursed him at an Ohio gas station while the player was driving home to Cincinnati.

“The direction of our country genuinely concerns me for the health and well-being of the young men I have devoted my life and career to leading,” Franklin said. “These young men are future doctors, teachers, broadcasters, lawyers, athletes, fathers and more. The idea they can have their lives stolen from them before they get a chance to leave their mark on the world is unconscionable.

“It’s these same young men who have a platform to stand upon to remind us all lives deserve to be protected – black lives, women’s lives, the lives of the sick, elderly, criminal, free, immigrant or domestic. Every breath, every life is precious.”

Franklin said he was encouraged by his players, whom he called “faces of change.”

“I am thankful for the opportunity to lead men of honor, character, tolerance and empathy,” he said. “I consider myself privileged to be a part of their triumphs, disappointments, happiness, sacrifices and frustrations because we are a nation of shared experiences.

“We are a country built on hope, and it’s my greatest wish we remember our differences are what make us strong. Our shared pain is what binds us, but it will be our love and tenacity that guides the change needed in our country.”