Statements about racial injustice must become activity or else what good did the statements really do? This goes for all of us, coaches who have posted messages on social media included.

Lincoln Riley included.

The Oklahoma football coach shared a statement last Sunday. It contained two critical elements: “I ALWAYS stand with my players” and “I am committed to being a part of the change.”

At least two of Riley’s players have taken public action in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Justin Broiles spoke to protesters in Oklahoma City. Chanse Sylvie posted a document outlining a suggested path toward police reform.

If Riley truly does stand with his players, and truly is committed to helping change a system that poisons the environment for his African-American players, he must be as active as Broiles and Sylvie have been.

I’m not suggesting Riley speak into a megaphone as Broiles did or propose new law enforcement standards as Sylvie did. What I’m getting at here is something I asked Riley during a media Zoom conference Wednesday:

When you have your players in front of you again and they request that you act with them, whether it’s coming out to take a knee during the national anthem before a game or marching in some kind of demonstration, will you be willing to do so?

“I definitely stand with my players (per) the statement I put out on Twitter. And it’s not just because they’re my players. It’s a fundamental belief,” Riley answered. “I was very fortunate to be raised in a household that taught me that no one is better than anybody else because of the color of their skin. Been lucky enough to have been in locker rooms of sports teams all my life. So I’m fortunate to have grown up doing that and been raised in a household where that was emphasized.

“Honestly, if the players ask me to do something, that’s great. But that’s something that I would do regardless if I was a football coach or not. It’s just a true fundamental belief that I have. Certainly, I stand with my players. I stand with an opportunity to help make this world a better place, however big or small that opportunity is.

“I don’t think that anything would be off the table, certainly, as far as a protest or as far as a call for equality and for the world to get better, which it needs to right now. As long as it’s done tastefully, it’s well thought out, it’s done peacefully, there is certainly nothing off the table in that realm for me personally.”

It was a virtuous response. I applaud Riley for that.

But I am most interested in the last passage, about Riley’s willingness to step beyond any statement and join his players actively.

Assuming our nation’s rage over police brutality and the racism at that brutality’s core burns past the point when the Sooners reunite from the pandemic, and Broiles, Sylvie or any teammates ask Riley to join them in peaceful demonstration, he must.

He must stand or march with them at a non-violent protest. He must kneel with them should they choose to mobilize before a game.

I see this as passing Riley’s tasteful/practical/peaceful litmus test. Others, including some in OU’s fan and donor base, will not.

That shouldn’t matter. Not if Riley means what he states. Not if he is aware that any social movement that prompts meaningful, lasting change begins with voices and ends with measures.

Riley, whose sharpness extends beyond what to call on third-and-7, is aware of his environment.

He has given many indications he is supportive of his players. He was doing so before our rage over George Floyd erupted.

He should be an example for other coaches to follow. He can be one by following the example players have already set for their coaches.

Broiles and Sylvie have already gone beyond social media statements. They have acted. Other athletes have acted, have lent their voices to protests and their ideas to referenda.

Soon they will be with their teams again, their coaches, and it will be the coaches’ turn to act.

It will be on the coaches to do as their players have done, or what good did they do their players’ cause to begin with?

A look at images from Tuesday’s protests in Tulsa after the killing of George Floyd

Twitter: @GuerinEmig

Sports Columnist

Proud father of Gretchen and Holden. Devoted husband to Christy, who has been my best friend since biology class at Booker T. Washington. I covered the Oklahoma Sooners for 15 years. That was both challenging and rewarding. Now I get to write columns.