Gophers take on racism with H.E.R.E initiative

The program was sparked by the rising significance of social action in 2020.

Thomas+Barber+and+Coney+Durr+tackle+Purdue+on+Saturday%2C+Nov.+10+at+TCF+Bank+Stadium.+The+Gophers+beat+the+Boilermakers+41-10.

Tony Saunders

Thomas Barber and Coney Durr tackle Purdue on Saturday, Nov. 10 at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers beat the Boilermakers 41-10.

Brendan O'Brien

Back in May following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Gophers’ football coach P.J. Fleck checked in with his players. Fast forward to when the team was able to meet again in person, and Fleck decided to bring the team’s leadership council together.

In the meeting, he asked players what they wanted to do about the issue of racism in society and how they wanted to create change from within the program. The answer came from defensive back Coney Durr, and his response was simple: educate.

“Everyone in this room, no matter who you are, needs to be educated,” Fleck said. “I think that was an incredibly powerful statement — one word to describe what we all need. … No matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, we all need education.”

Now Minnesota has added another element to its “Row the Boat” culture with its H.E.R.E. (Helping End Racism through Education) initiative. With this, the Gophers learn about a different theme or topic each week. Durr appreciates the different conversations and experiences that have come out of the initiative thus far.

“It’s different hearing something on TV than it is hearing it from a brother you’re around every single day,” Durr said.

While social change has been a significant topic throughout 2020, the H.E.R.E. initiative will be around longer than this season. Fleck said he wanted the players to come up with a solution that would be a staple of Minnesota’s football program for years to come.

Spreading “zero tolerance” of racism “is how we are going to be able to get change,” Fleck said. “You got to listen, you have to be empathetic and you have to have action, and those are the steps that are in place.”

Wide receiver Rashod Bateman has also taken public steps to bring about change and end racism. When it was announced he would be able to return to play for the Gophers in 2020, Bateman also announced he would be changing his jersey number to zero to symbolize a standard of zero tolerance for racism within the program and society as a whole.

Players and coaches have noted that learning more about this issue is not an easy thing to do. Conversations have been uncomfortable and stories have been emotional, but the Gophers believe it is an important step toward promoting any sort of change.

“Some of it’s very hard and emotional to listen to, but that’s the education that we can’t ignore,” Fleck said. “I’m really proud of our players for really putting their heads together and coming up with this plan of the H.E.R.E. initiative because I think it’s really powerful to help end racism with education.”