Meeting with members of the media ahead of Saturday's matchup with No. 4 Gonzaga, North Carolina coach Roy Williams veered away from basketball to discuss the controversy surrounding a plan to bring the Silent Sam statue back to campus.
Toppled by protesters in August, the university recently introduced a plan to construct a museum that will house the Confederate soldier statue. That plan has been met by backlash, including a petition signed by 250 student-athletes as of Friday afternoon.
Among them are four current players: Garrison Brooks, K.J. Smith, Sterling Manley and Brandon Robinson.
A full transcript of Williams' comments:
Luke DeCock, News & Observer: Three of your current players signed the open letter against the current plan for Silent Sam. How do you feel about their willingness — and several of your former players, too— have you talked to them about it? How do you feel about their taking a stand on that, and as an alum, how do you feel about how the university is handling everything?
Roy Williams: I’m not bothered by it at all. I’ve talked to our guys about it and told them if they feel strongly about it, go right ahead. I think it’s their individual rights and I think they should if they feel strongly about it. As always, you guys have heard me say, ‘Don’t surprise me.’ …
It’s a touchy issue, it’s a hard issue and it’s an easy issue, I mean it really is. It’s something we’ve talked about on multiple occasions. As an alum, as the graduate, as the coach, I’ve got to have many different views on things, but it’s a very divisive thing and I hate that we have anything divisive on or campus or involved in our institution.
The one I feel the most pain for is (Chancellor Carol Folt) because she’s in a no-win situation. I think she has her own individual beliefs, but she’s required by law to act or react in a certain situation. She’s the one I feel the most for.
In my mind, in our own personal opinion, I wish we didn’t have a situation where we’re putting it back on campus. I don’t know what everyone’s motivations were (in 1913) but right now, it’s a very divisive issue. I wish it would go away, but I’m sure there are other people that feel that way as well. I don’t know what that motivation was at that time. I read those remarks at that time, and they were not very good remarks, which leads me to be stronger in the idea that I don’t think we should have it.
I think the chancellor’s hands are a little bit tied with it.
As far as my players being involved, if they feel that way, I have zero problems. I’m glad they’re expressing themselves and they have the right to have those feelings just like I have the right to have the feeling that I wish it wasn’t here.
Brant Wilkerson-New, News & Record: How did Coach (Dean) Smith’s legacy and that sort of thing, did that shape the way you try to handle these types of things? I know some coaches try to shy away from these things.
Williams: Not really, I mean Coach Did the right thing. I feel like what I’m saying is right for me, so this is America, I can say anything.
Mark Armstrong, WTVD-11: Do you think your players, through this, are becoming aware of the power they can wield when they want to take a stand on something?
Williams: People talk about the power you can wield, but I’m not sure what that is. I think you have the right to state your beliefs; I’m not sure if any one person has any more power than anybody else. I know people talk about that all the time, but still, there’s a law out there. In my own personal belief, period, I think it would be best for it not to be here. I think some people in the decision-making business would rather it not be here, but the only people that can change that, are the people that make the laws.
Andrew Jones, Tar Heel Illustrated: When you say you guys have talked about it, is it just to the extent of, ‘I don’t want to be surprised,’ or do you actually go into it and let them kind of express themselves and kind of air that out?
Williams: A little bit of both. I tell them exactly what I think. There’s no way in Hades (Associate Athletic Director for Communications Steve Kirschner) would let me say exactly what I think, but I tell them. I’m straight forward; tell the truth and you don’t have to remember what you said. It’s a pretty easy deal. We’ve talked about it.