The past month has been eye-opening for Rob Ambrose. Though the Towson head football coach has not been able to lead his team in practices due to the coronavirus pandemic, he has learned to lead them in bigger ways off the field.
After seeing the video of George Floyd’s May 25 killing by a Minneapolis police officer, Ambrose realized he was unaware of the extent of his privilege. He reflected on his own upbringing — Ambrose was raised in a low-income household in Middletown, Md. — and recognized he needed to do more to stand with his players, most of whom are Black.
“I never could understand because I came up [with hardships] and had to overcome a ton,” Ambrose said during a video call with Stan “The Fan” Charles and Gary Stein June 24. “I’ve learned. I didn’t ‘get it’ [before].”
In the weeks after Floyd’s killing, Ambrose has fostered an open dialogue among his team. As demonstrations began to flare up, the 49-year-old spoke with his players to gauge their feelings. Ambrose said they were rightfully angry and upset about the situation as well as larger social justice issues like police brutality.
Those conversations helped him connect more deeply with his players, and Ambrose now realizes that he cannot be silent any longer. He said this is a pivotal and necessary time of change, and he fully stands with his players.
“When that young man was knelt upon and died, that changed me in a way that I don’t think I can quite put to words,” Ambrose said. “I told [my players], ‘I’m not good enough. I didn’t listen well enough. I’m not a good enough ally. I haven’t learned enough.’ And I need to get better. And it’s not good enough to be ‘good.'”
Ambrose, who played football at Towson from 1989-1991 and has coached the Tigers since 2009, said he has helped his players through all manner of off-field situations, including occasions in which his players had run-ins with the police.
Though he assisted and protected his players in those instances, he said he had not realized how his Black players live constantly on edge when out and about or interacting with a police officer. It was not until Ambrose had a child and began comparing his son’s life experiences to that of his players that he recognized this dichotomy.
“Until I grew up and had a child on my own, I didn’t realize that the young men I’ve been helping my entire life have had to go through situations [with police] — of which I would help them with — but when I had a son I didn’t have to have the conversation with him that their parents had to have with them,” Ambrose said.
That realization is among the reasons why Ambrose has voiced strong support for any of his players that choose to protest. The coach said he has always told his players to speak up if they see a wrong, and now the coach is likewise heeding that advice.
And as Ambrose has learned more about police brutality, systemic racism and some of his players’ off-field experiences, he has stepped up as an ally and leader in a new way: by joining the protests on the front lines.
“Damn right we’re going to protest, and I’m going to march with you,” Ambrose told his team. “And I’m standing in front. If it’s going to get nuts, I’m standing in front, and they’re going through me to get to my kids. Let [the police] do that on national TV to me.”
For more from Ambrose, watch the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Matt Stamey