Photo by Tony Valainis
Butler University’s men’s basketball coach LaVall Jordan has been as vocal about racial justice as he has been about defense. Dustin Dopirak interviewed Jordan for our November issue, speaking about everything from this year’s Black Lives Matter protests to the COVID-19 pandemic. The interview is below.
After George Floyd was killed this spring, you mentioned in an interview that you had conversations with your family about whether you should say something publicly. Ultimately, you spoke on the steps of the Indiana War Memorial, and have been Tweeting about racial justice ever since. What led you to speak up and get involved?
Initially, there was so much to process emotionally. Just knowing the history of what Black people have been through in our country, being a Black male, and watching that and dealing with the raw emotions. I was tired of seeing it. But I didn’t want to do something or say something because of other people’s expectations. I didn’t want to put out a statement for the sake of putting out a statement. Ultimately, I did what I did because it was about standing up for what’s right.
What were those conversations with your family like?
Heavy. I was going down through the history with my dad, and asking his advice on what to say to my children. I have three daughters. My oldest is 15, and she’s very aware of what’s going on. My 7-year-old, not as much. We live in Fishers, and they’re in a school where there’s more white than Black. I’m trying to help them process it. So we’re talking about it from a family values and a Christian perspective, knowing we’re all created in God’s image and doing unto others as we would want done to ourselves. When they ask, “Why would someone do that to somebody else?” that’s a difficult question to answer. I don’t know why the officer did what he did. And I don’t want them to be angry or feel different about their friends.
How has your team and the administration reacted to the Black Lives Matter movement?
Within the team, there was a lot of emotion initially as well. Anger, frustration, confusion. It’s important to have the dialogue we started, and we help the players understand how to use their platform if they choose to. They see things differently in this generation. Most of them don’t want to stand by and watch. They want to say something and do something to help.
You’ve talked on social media about the importance of having uncomfortable conversations about race. In your view, why is that useful?
The war is against ignorance as much as anything. I think more people have hearts than don’t, but they’re ignorant. There are things they don’t know, and things I don’t know. So I just encourage people to seek the whole truth by having those uncomfortable conversations.
One of your core messages on social media since George Floyd’s death has been the importance of voting. How did that become a focal point for you?
There are other ways to change the system, but one of the biggest ways is to vote. I think about John Lewis and Bloody Sunday in 1965, what those people did for our right to vote. Many have stood, fought, and died for it. We want our student athletes to know that. It’s critical to do some research and get yourself registered. When you look back at history, voting must be important if so many people have tried to suppress it.
Your off-season has obviously been upended by the coronavirus. Now that you’re back on campus, how are you processing last season and the fact that your team, which was very good, was denied an NCAA Tournament?
We’ve moved on. Our focus is getting our freshmen up to speed. But I’m sure for the returning guys, the fact that we missed that is a motivating factor. Last year’s team showed the world who they were. In terms of accomplishments, there could have been more if there had been a tournament, but I think there’s an inner satisfaction. They proved themselves.
You lost a couple of key players to graduation last year. How do you expect this team to play?
Like Butler. It’s not like there are any new expectations on how we do things. Roles will change. Obviously, somebody has to be our new leading scorer and he won’t be named Kamar Baldwin. Somebody will be our best shooter and not be named Sean McDermott. But I expect them to do what Butler does.
When you got the head coaching job, what did you find at Butler that you could not have imagined as a player?
A lot of things were the same walking in that door at Hinkle Fieldhouse. But my first exhibition game as a coach, we played Hanover and there were more than 8,000 people in attendance. I remember our exhibition games when I was a player, and nowhere near 8,000 people were there. I looked up and thought, Wow, that’s different. People had grown to love Butler so much that they’d pack the house to watch an exhibition game. It was amazing to see.