Mike Norvell called it one of the proudest moments of his coaching career.

Earlier this week, Florida State defensive tackle Cory Durden walked into his head coach’s office with an idea. He wanted to stage a Unity Walk organized by members of the FSU football team, using their collective platform to continue raising attention to the social justice battle that continues to wage across the country.

Protests have been held in Tallahassee and across the country for over two weeks since George Floyd died after a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25. The idea behind the protests has been to bring attention to the ongoing inequality and police brutality issues that continue to affect the Black community in America.

That’s a big part of what pushed Durden to be a voice for change.

“I feel like with the coronavirus and everything that’s going on around the World, I feel like we needed to do something to bring everyone together,” Durden said.

“This is a way to get around each other, get the chemistry and just support a cause that is important… Times are changing in America. It’s a different time right now, it’s just so tough with everything going on. Personally, I just had a child and it’s scary. How am I supposed to raise my child with everything going on in the World?”

A mass crowd of people from the FSU, Florida A&M, Tallahassee Community College and Tallahassee communities responded to Durden’s call. On less than 24 hours notice, hundreds of people showed up for the Unity Walk on Saturday afternoon.

With the vast majority of the FSU football team leading the pack and everyone wearing masks, the protesters marched approximately 1.5 miles from the Unconquered Statue to the Florida Capitol Building, continuing to call for change.

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“We’re setting the standard. It’s not just Florida State athletes, it’s athletes from all across the nation just showing how big of an impact we have…” FSU defensive back Jaiden Lars-Woodbey told the Tallahassee Democrat.

“Sports isn’t the only thing that us student-athletes do. We do have a voice and we’re voicing it right now. I’m just glad there’s some type of revolution going across the nation right now. I’m just excited for it.”

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Norvell and the rest of his staff participated in the walk in solidarity with their team. Norvell also addressed the sizable crowd before the start of the walk, thanking them for their support in what he deemed an important matter. 

“Thank you for everybody coming out today and joining us on behalf of the Florida State football team on our Unity Walk. That’s something that today in our country, we have to see. Everybody can talk about, but we have to have action to show a unified country,” Norvell said to the crowd.

“A unified country shows the importance and necessity of all Black lives and the importance of everybody being on that page and that message to unify together. I’m grateful to see everybody out here be a part of this.

“To be honest with you, one of the proudest moments I’ve had was earlier this week when one of our football players took ownership and leadership in helping to organize this entire event and the encouragement and support of this team to include all of Tallahassee so that we could have a moment together showing our support for this entire community and this entire country with one unified voice and one unified action.”

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The football team is the only FSU team that has resumed voluntary workouts in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown, meaning few other FSU student-athletes are back in town yet.

But a number of FSU coaches from other sports, including women’s basketball coach Sue Semrau, track and field coach Bob Braman, indoor volleyball coach Chris Poole, beach volleyball coach Brooke Niles and women’s cross country coach Kelly Phillips, each participated in the walk to represent their student-athletes who couldn’t be there.

“It’s huge, letting us come back around full-circle. Showing us how much they love us outside of our helmets, besides workouts and things like that in our uniforms,” senior defensive tackle Marvin Wilson told the Democrat of what that support from FSU coaches and administrators means.

“It’s huge for them to support us not only just when we’re on the field or in the classroom, but outside as people. Once we step outside the stadium, outside the FSU facility, it’s huge for them to show us that they care that much.”

Wilson made national headlines June 4 when he called out Norvell for what he viewed as a disingenuous quote Norvell gave to The Athletic with regard to how he was talking to his team about the ongoing injustice.

Norvell came under some scrutiny for being called out by one of his best players, but Wilson’s tweet wound up being a positive for the FSU football team as it led to a candid team meeting and a more unified message going forward.

“Communication is key. It’s never bad to over-communicate something and the details matter,” Lars-Woodbey said of what the team learned from that meeting.

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“I feel like we’ve gotten better from it because we were all able to come together as men and women and talk about an issue rather than sweeping it under a rug and acting like everything is all right.”

Lars-Woodbey walked with a sign that read, “No justice, no peace,” a chant members of the FSU football team echoed in unison early in the march. Senior defensive end Janarius Robinson donned a shirt that said, “Silence is violence.”

The march culminated outside the Florida Capitol when the FSU Unity Walk ran into another protest.

After a number of impassioned speeches from participants, Durden turned to the crowd. His message in many ways summed up how these ongoing issues have helped him, his teammates and college athletes across the country find their voices and realize exactly how impactful their platforms can be.

“The main message from the football team was we want everyone to know that we’re more than just football players, more than just athletes,” Durden told the crowd.

“A lot of people look at us and they expect us to just shut up and play football. That’s not what’s going to happen. We feel like we’re more than that.”


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