UNC football invites police to practice, eats lunch with officers

UNC coach Larry Fedora on Monday invited local police officers to practice, and to eat lunch with his team.
UNC coach Larry Fedora on Monday invited local police officers to practice, and to eat lunch with his team. Robert Willett -- rwillett@newsobserver.com

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora often talks with his players about the things football coaches normally discuss, like discipline and timeliness and Xs and Os and hard work and toughness. Then there’s how to interact with the police. Fedora talks about that, too.

“All the time,” Des Lawrence, a senior cornerback, said on Monday.

The conversations reflect an environment in which police shootings – and, in particular, police officers shooting black men – have created nationwide tension. Fedora on Monday took his ongoing discussion another step, and invited local police officers to watch practice and to share lunch with the team.

And so on a hot, humid day, the sun beating down on the field at Kenan Stadium, dozens of officers sat behind one end zone and watched the Tar Heels go through a scrimmage. The officers were from both the Chapel Hill Police Department and from UNC’s campus police department.

The goal, Fedora said, was to increase familiarity and understanding. Not only for his players, many of whom are black, but for the officers, as well.

“(With) what’s going on in this country right now, I think it’s just one small little bitty thing that we can do to help with the relationship between the people who serve us and our players,” Fedora said. “And I think it’s just something very, very small that we can do to build that relationship and to continue to make sure our guys understand what they are all about.

“And I want (police officers) to understand who we are. So I think it’ll be a great thing.”

Some police officers brought members of their family. Later in the day, UNC wide receiver coach Gunter Brewer posted pictures from the lunch on his Twitter account.

One of the pictures showed some of UNC’s receivers listening to a member of law enforcement. Another showed Ryan Switzer and other players sitting with children wearing UNC football jerseys.

Fedora said this was the first time he’d ever done anything like this.

“I really kicked myself in the butt for not being more proactive and doing something like this years ago,” he said. “Because it just makes sense. And so I’m kind of down on myself about just now thinking about this. But it’s something that we need to do.

“We need to honor those guys that try to protect everybody in this world. We’ve got to honor them. And I want them to get to know our guys. I want them to know who our guys are. And I want our guys to understand they’re regular people with families, and they’re great people.”

Donnie Miles, a junior safety, said before the lunch that he was looking forward to speaking with some of the police officers so that he could “pick their brains and see what’s going on in some of the situations” that have been publicized involving officers and black men.

Fedora has tried to coach his players about how to handle interactions with police, Lawrence said.

“He makes sure that whenever we have an encounter outside of this stadium, or whenever we step off this campus that we’re always respectful,” Lawrence said, “and doing what the officer asks, making sure that they feel comfortable.

“Whether that be late at night and it’s dark outside, and they’re approaching our car, just making sure that they feel comfortable – turn the light on, make sure that they can see inside. Just doing all reasonable things to make sure that you don’t have any problems and you don’t end up being one of the victims.”