After watching race riots in York, Bruce Arians wonders how much progress has been made

Tampa Bay Times (TNS)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians was a teenager when he lived through the race riots in York.

Tampa Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has had to ask himself a question recently: How far have we really come?

Seeing America enveloped in racial tension, sparked by the death of a black man in police custody caught on cellphone camera, an officer’s knee on the back of his neck, Arians — one of the NFL’s most vocal proponents of diversity and inclusion — said he can’t help but think back to the late 1960s.

That’s when, as a teenager in York, Pa., he watched National Guard tanks roll through the streets during race riots that swallowed the town in the summers of 1968 and 1969.

“There are times when I think we haven’t made any progress,” Arians said recently. “... What’s really improved since then? But a lot has."

Just not enough.

“It’s very disheartening,” Arians said. “Like I said, growing up in it and being a part of it, personally, you would hope that we would not be in 2020 still dealing with these issues. You would hope as a nation to have grown since 1968. I think we have, but not enough, obviously.”

Arians, a white man whose closest friends growing up were black, graduated from York High. As a college quarterback at Virginia Tech, he was the first white player to room with a black teammate.

He’s used his authority as a coach to trumpet diversity, and his coaching staff is the only one in the NFL to have three black coordinators. Though nearly 70 percent of the NFL’s players are black, just four head coaches and two general managers are black.

Arians called the death of George Floyd, the Minneapolis man who died in police custody “sickening.” He was likewise disturbed by the death of Georgia 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in February at the hands of a white father and son, and the death of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, a black medical worker shot by police in Louisville.

“We all know when we see something that’s horrific and wrong,” Arians said. “And the events, especially the last three events, they’re wrong. They’re murders. Hopefully, justice will be served quickly."

Arians, 67, said he supports the protests urging systematic change and policing reform but added that it’s important people remain as passionate about their causes after the demonstrations stop.

“I think right now, I love the fact that people are upset and they’re raising their voices, but don’t stop," he said. "It’s one thing to march and protest. It’s another thing to take action. And when the protesting is over, I’d urge everybody to take action. Do something positive to help the situation. Just don’t go back to being silent, because then it’s going to happen again.”

Looking to see what more he could do, Arians said he joined Campaign Zero, an organization dedicated to stopping police violence in America, and encouraged his players to do so, as well.

Arians said he’s talked to players about what’s going on, but because interaction is limited to virtual meetings due to the pandemic, it’s not the same as talking face-to-face. He said the team’s Social Justice Initiative, which is led by Carlton Davis, Ali Marpet, Bradley Pinion and Donovan Smith, is discussing what Bucs players can do to help.

“(They) are reaching out to all of our players to have those conversations and see what as a group they can do to help situations and, as a group, find what we can do as a team,” Arians said. “Personally, it’s so much easier when it’s face-to-face. And I’ve talked to some of our young guys and some of our veterans. Hopefully, when we get back together, we will have some answers on what we can do to continue to improve the situation.”