WILLMAR — Like much of the public around the world, Ridgewater College men’s basketball head coach Nate Thooft was “sick to his stomach” when he learned of the George Floyd news.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black resident of St. Louis Park, was killed while in police custody in front of a Minneapolis grocery store on May 25 when one of the arresting police officers refused to remove his knee from the back of Floyd’s neck as he was pinned to the ground.
The world became aware of the incident the following day, and three days later, Thooft expressed his thoughts on social media on the matter. In a two-page Twitter post, Thooft implored people to listen to the stories coming from the black community and share in their outrage.
Among the many reasons he felt inspired to let his feelings be known, the Warriors head coach noted the friends that he has in south Minneapolis and live not too far from where the incident took place. Thooft considers those friends as family who he has gone on trips with and heard some of their stories.
“I’ve always known that it’s affected people, but it’s right there,” Thooft said.
He has also heard stories from some of his players. This past season, Thooft led an exercise where he and his players sat in a classroom for three-and-a-half hours to share stories about their backgrounds and experiences.
The Warriors team is made up of players of different races and locations, from west central Minnesota to central Florida.
“You started to see deeper into people’s background, whether it was with the police or whether it was with their families,” Thooft said. “I think everyone in that room got a whole new amount of empathy for what’s going on to the people around them. Sometimes you’re in your own personal space that you know what’s going on, but you don’t take the time to know.”
Originally from Redwood Falls, Thooft graduated from North Dakota State University where he competed as a member of the Bison track and cross country teams before joining the men’s basketball staff as a student assistant.
It was there where Thooft began to understand the importance of diversity.
“Somewhere in college, I got the opportunity to be around a lot of diversity,” Thooft said. “It added so much value in my life and one of my goals is to be able to share that with my athletes.”
Prior to his post Friday, Thooft spoke to some of his players after Floyd’s death before releasing his thoughts online. One particular player was Warriors guard Faizon Stephens, who is black. During their 45-minute conversation, Thooft notes that Stephens spoke from a place of frustration given the amount of police brutality incidents that have occurred in recent years. But he had a commitment toward leadership and not fighting evil with evil.
“I was pretty mad that day before I talked to him,” Thooft said. “He really helped me see things a little bit clearer because he was seeing things in a clearer way.”
While he doesn’t support the looting and rioting, Thooft is happy to see the amount of protest going on around the country. It’s a movement where people from all different races and backgrounds have joined with a common voice.
“It’s awesome to see the protests,” Thooft said. “It is really awesome to see that many people come together. ... It’s so good to see people from the community come together and be able to march the streets and be heard. I really hope that people are listening.”
So as the protests continue on, what’s next? Thooft suggests the next step towards change is an open dialogue.
“I would love to see people’s perspective change and I would love to see people interact more,” Thooft said. “People need to go out of their way and start having conversations about what other people are experiencing. ... You can’t change things and you can’t understand things until you’ve talked to somebody about them. It doesn’t do us any good to watch television and guess at how people feel.
“I would just want to see the conversations and the perspectives get bigger because then we can actually do something. We need people’s understanding and open-mindedness to grow.”