Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said the protesting and rioting in Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd "hurts my heart and breaks my soul," while noting "this is a time to listen" to the thoughts and feelings of his players.
Fleck discussed a variety of topics related to the protests during an interview with ESPN's Get Up on Monday, one week after Floyd, 46, died while in Minneapolis police custody.
Floyd, a black man, died after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. Chauvin was fired Tuesday and charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers were also fired but have not been charged.
Minneapolis has been the center of protests -- some peaceful, some violent -- since Tuesday, when bystander video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck began to circulate widely on social media.
"It's unfortunate and sad, and it hurts my heart and breaks my soul, that it's happened in a city that I'm so fond and love so much and become so fond of," Fleck said. "But if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.
"And I think that's what everybody's seeing around the country now -- is that everyone's hurting and everyone's going through this, and it's not just isolated to one city; that this can happen anywhere in our country. And that is the issue."
Fleck said he spent the past week meeting with his players, recruits and their parents -- both as a team and individually -- to express their emotions.
"This week, I've told our football team, 'I'm a 39-year-old white, Caucasian male; I'm not your head football coach,'" he said. "'You tell me, you call me, I'm here to listen.'
"Too many times, as a head coach, we want to talk, and talk, and talk, and talk -- and we get paid to talk, and we talk for a living. But this is a time to listen, and to have empathy, and to be very real of what's going on with the social injustice around us."
Fleck is set to enter his fourth season as the Golden Gophers' coach. He released a statement last week calling Floyd's death "indefensible" and saying that he stands "with the community in asking for accountability and justice."
"The world right now can learn a lot from college football teams," Fleck said Monday. "Half of my players are African American, half are Caucasian and white.
"And the world can learn a lot about how these young people are standing up, saying what they feel, and making sure their voices are heard. And as a head football coach, that's our responsibility."