Activist, academic and athlete: The Odyssey of Minnesota's Seth Green
MINNEAPOLIS — Seth Green is on an odyssey, even though he’s never really left home — at least not for long.
Sure, there was the year he spent playing big-time high school football in Texas. And the time he planned to attend Oregon and become immersed in the state’s Nike-generated football utopia.
But his is a Minnesota story. And even inside the state’s borders, there are manifold layers, twists and turns to Green’s journey.
There’s the Seth Green most people know — 4-star prospect turned Wildcat quarterback, reserve wide receiver.
But there’s also Seth Green, community activist. Seth Green, son and big brother. Seth Green, aspiring sales and marketing leader pursuing his Master’s. Seth Green, Woodbury native who has taken his experiences on the peripheries of sport and society and carries them around on the shoulders of his 6-4, 240-pound frame.
“It goes back to … learning about different cultures and different backgrounds,” Green told Saturday Tradition. “And it’s crazy how diverse different parts of the country are — not even with their skin colors and religions and things like that would be on a piece of paper, but when you look at diversity, just everyday norms in different parts of the country is something I feel is a good life experience to have.”
Which is why the killing of George Floyd caused a stir in Green beyond the anger and shouts for justice that have gripped America this summer.
Green stood on the Interstate 35 bridge and joined those cries in the wake of Floyd’s death. He’s stood at the corner of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue many times, allowing the gravity of yet another controversial police killing to sink into his bones.
He has watched his city burn. Now he wants to help it rise.
“That was a pivotal moment for everybody where a lot of people opened up to the conversation, which is the first step in the right direction,” Green said. “And then the main part is making sure that lasting change happens from this and not just a couple of things to tie over the situation, more or less, then going back to whatever normal was.”
Green wholeheartedly embraced an invitation to serve on the Big Ten Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition. The Gophers’ delegation also includes coach P.J. Fleck, U of M president Joan Gabel, athletic director Mark Coyle and former football player Darrell Thompson, among other athletes and officials.
The committee features representatives from all 14 B1G schools. Its goal is to “seek tangible ways to actively and constructively combat racism and hate around the world while also empowering student-athletes to express their rights to free speech and peaceful protest,” according to commissioner Kevin Warren.
Tangibly, the group has formally launched a voter registration initiative encouraging all conference athletes to take part in the electoral process.
That’s where real, tangible change begins, Green said. “No matter who you’re voting for, no matter what you’re voting for, going out then voting is the most important.”
The redshirt senior is also active in the newly-formed group College Athlete Unity. Co-founded by Minnesota teammate Benjamin St-Juste, the group seeks to give athletes a platform — primarily via social media — to advocate for reform.
Green also agrees with his coach’s widely-popularized sentiment that a polarized nation can learn a lot from 18-22-year-old men from all walks of life joining around a common, noble purpose.
“The locker room is a very, very powerful place,” Fleck said on ESPN’s First Take last month. “It’s an incredible platform for young people to speak their mind openly. It’s for connection. It’s for love. It’s for everybody rowing the boat in the same direction for the same cause to be able to come together to overcome something.”
“I’m not saying there isn’t any prejudice in college football, but being around guys that long for that many hours, you know, for however many years straight, it definitely breaks that down fast,” Green said. “I feel like the beautiful part of (football) is how it puts people regardless of background in a situation where they have to learn for themselves what people of certain backgrounds are like.
“You can’t be around somebody that long and not get to know them as a person and realize assumptions you had were wrong.”
A stark sense of purpose is nothing new for Green, who’s twice won the team’s Tony Dungy Award for character and community service.
It’s how he was brought up.
His dad, Bryan, is a Black man from Alabama who played running back for the Gophers in 1991. He serves in the National Guard’s medical services corps and was once deployed to Iraq. Seth’s mother is a white Minnesota native. They raised their three sons in a Christian household and taught them to value the inherent dignity of every human, even if their own isn’t always respected due to the color of their skin.
“Faith is No. 1,” Green says of the source of his value system. “And that was brought to me by my family.”
Growing up in the affluent suburb of Woodbury, Seth and his two younger brothers knew they’d be treated differently at times. Fortunately, he can’t recall any incidents of overt racism toward him during his high school days. But being one of the few Black kids in a white community gave him an appreciation for an environment where people were viewed as just that — people.
Before Seth’s senior year, Bryan took a job promotion and moved the family to Allen, Texas. That meant a transfer from East Ridge to Allen High and playing quarterback for coach Kevin Murray, the father of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. Green earned a Texas state title ring that fall.
He committed to Oregon but flipped to his hometown Gophers after then-Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost left for the head coaching job at Central Florida.
Upon returning to the Twin Cities, Green dealt first with scandal. Ten Minnesota football players, including Green, were suspended for alleged sexual assault. The school’s subsequent investigation cleared Green of any wrongdoing.
Then he dealt with disappointment. After redshirting, the 4-star prospect sat buried on the quarterback depth chart for 2 seasons.
Fleck took over for fired Tracy Claeys and began using Green in Wildcat-type packages, earning him the nickname “The Green Line.” Today, he’s looking to add wideout-rotation duties to his résumé given the departure of Tyler Johnson for the NFL.
Green has also dealt personally with what he describes as racism. When he was 19, he says, police handcuffed him and held him at gunpoint because he fit a description of a recent burglary suspect nearby.
The incident ended peacefully, but Green thinks it could have been worse.
“No matter what I did, I was in a losing situation,” Green says, “whether, you know, whether it went as bad as it (could have) or smoothly as it did, just getting detained and not getting abused or beaten in any way, shape or form, or even losing my life. But all that being said, I still feel at the end of the day that the way our systems are set up, that there wouldn’t have been any repercussions and justice for me in that situation.”
Just Tuesday, the Minnesota state legislature passed sweeping police accountability measures that include the banning of chokeholds and neck restraints like the one used on Floyd.
Meanwhile, Green, his teammates and the rest of college football plod forward toward a season that no one is sure is going to happen.
For their part, Green says, the Gophers have been taking part in organized workouts and film study since last week under the assumption that it is.
“The biggest thing that the team is focusing on is making sure that no matter what the outcome is, we’re ready and we’re not missing a beat,” Green said. “We’re working just as hard as we would if society was not in a pandemic right now.”
— P.J. Fleck (@Coach_Fleck) July 17, 2020
So what’s next? Green hopes an impressionable senior season can earn him a crack at an NFL roster. Either way, he’ll soon wrap up his Master’s in human resource development. With an undergraduate degree in business and marketing education, he can envision himself joining the vast advertising community in the Twin Cities. He also wants to coach.
And you’ll likely see him around Stillwater, Oklahoma for the next few years, too. Twin brothers Blaine and Bryson, who are still at Allen, committed to Oklahoma State earlier this summer.
So there are more curves on Green’s ever-winding journey. But wherever it takes him next, he wants to leave each stop better than he found it.
“All those experiences have helped me grow as a man and as an individual, just allowing myself to be more understanding, just become a better person,” Green said. “A lot of self-reflection, learning rights and wrongs, you know, just taking the opportunity to grow as a person.”