Jim Harbaugh could’ve stopped after a few words on the Rich Eisen Show and a post on Twitter. He expressed disgust over the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis in late May. He condemned police brutality and inequality. He talked about creating change.
If he wanted to, Harbaugh could’ve stepped away from the topic after a handful of remarks. So many in his profession have considered that to be enough.
I am really proud of @JayHarbaugh @JamesHarbaughJr @grace_harbaugh for expressing themselves.
I believe in equal justice for all.
All injustice should be confronted and punished. It has to be equal and fair for all, and no one can be above the law. I pray we can get there! https://t.co/d7JQkZqdzW
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) May 31, 2020
Yet, on Tuesday morning, there was the Michigan head coach in the streets of Ann Arbor, sporting sunglasses, tennis shoes, his famous khaki pants and a stylish face mask replicating the Wolverines’ iconic winged helmet design. How appropriate that the shirt he picked out for that day was blue collar.
Harbaugh, as well as other coaches and student-athletes at Michigan, participated in an anti-police brutality march. Instead of pounding away at a keyboard and issuing a generic statement, Harbaugh agreed to show support with his actions.
It’s not a task many other coaches have been brave enough to conquer. At least not yet.
Seeing Harbaugh take part in Tuesday’s march in Ann Arbor is something that should make you reconsider what you value in a head coach. There’s more to sports than what the scoreboard reads on Saturday afternoon. Obviously, that’s a big part of how we judge individuals in this field. Rarely do we appraise a coach on his skills as a leader of young men and women, an educator, a mentor and a counselor.
That all comes with the territory, as well.
If you’re willing to evaluate Harbaugh on all that he’s responsible for that may not fall within the typical job description, you might be willing to concede that he’s the best head football coach in the B1G. Maybe the country.
Pardon my language, but I really don’t give a damn what his record is against Ohio State. Failing to win a division title or compete for a B1G championship doesn’t seem quite as critical right now. But do you know what is important? How about:
- Taking his teams overseas every spring for educational experiences
- Advocating for a one-time transfer rule for all student-athletes
- Writing an open letter urging the football community to give players more freedom in professional decisions
- Signing then 15-year-old Larry Prout, a young man who underwent over 90 surgeries, to the team
- Marching in an anti-police brutality protest in Ann Arbor
All that while winning 47 games in five years and re-establishing Michigan as consistent contender in the B1G.
None of these items should be forgotten or their significance diminished. There are plenty of other examples of Harbaugh’s continued work in the advancement of opportunities for student-athletes and help throughout the community. Those listed are just some of the most prominent.
Harbaugh has shown a commitment to his players on numerous levels in ways others across the sport have not. And yet, because a handful of coaches have won a few more games over the last five years, Harbaugh is the one who has been labeled as a disappointment.
I share blame in creating that perception. Because, until Tuesday, I had the same view as everyone else. Harbaugh’s inability to crack the Buckeyes and win a B1G championship was a problem. If he couldn’t clear that hurdle, it may cost him his job in the not-so-distant future.
Not anymore. Not after what I witnessed on Tuesday. Not after all Harbaugh has done in five years in Ann Arbor.
In a profession that demands attention 24 hours per day, seven days a week, Harbaugh has given even more. At a time when some of college football’s most prominent figures took over a week to respond to the death of George Floyd, Harbaugh spoke first. And when he could’ve stepped out of the spotlight after releasing a statement, Harbaugh marched for a cause.