CHICAGO – Team meetings aren’t what they used to be, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have meaning.
Dave Leitao’s discussion with his players virtually on Sunday is proof of that.
It didn’t have to do with basketball, as a number of meetings haven’t during the course of 2020. This one concerned the story that touched everyone in America, especially African-Americans.
Hence Leitao was upfront in his discussions with the team on the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis Police officer, the ensuing protests, civil unrest, and ongoing discussion of racism in the country.
“We had about a two-hour Zoom call Sunday to go back-and-forth; more of a discussion,” said Leitao of the his talk with the team during a discussion with Jarrett Payton for WGN-TV. “I know for me I got emotional and passionate because I’d like to think that I care about it enough to be a teacher of it and to hopefully give a better perspective on it than they might currently know.”
The coach, who will start his sixth season during his second stint at DePaul, had a specific idea in mind when he approached the discussion with his players. It’s a talk that came not long after unrest had begun to accompany the peaceful protests, causing damage in many cities including Chicago.
For Leitao, it was all about staying on target with the message.
“We’d like to hope that it’s not a conversation that we haven’t had before, but the specifics of the moment allows it to be a necessity, first of all. Then you’ve got to get to very, very specific points,” said Leitao. “You’re hurting, and I think as an 18, 20, 22-year old, there’s that hurt but there’s also that confusion.”
Yet the question about the future is one that was important for Leitao to discuss with his players during the two-hour meeting.
“‘What do I do? How do I move forward? What do I do with my anger?’ They need people in their lives; their family most importantly. But in the position I’m in as a coach, to try to give some perspective to it, some understanding hopefully, and most of importantly use history,” said Leitao. “Whether it’s how far we’re going to go back with the ideologies of racism to its present state.
“But most importantly, how can we move forward, because I think that’s what everybody wants to do. How can we live a life that’s better than it is right now. So those conversations become really, really important.”
All of this has also taken place as Leitao grieves the loss of his mother a few weeks back due to the COVID-19, which he also talked at length with Payton about on Tuesday.
“There are certain foundational things that I always stand for and stand by in good times and in bad times. As you know, more than anybody, losing a parent, it jolts you like nothing else,” said Leitao to Payton, whose father Walter died in 1999. “You grieve as you’re supposed to grieve, particularly in this difficult environment, because the funeral service and those things are disrupted in a very different kind of way.”
It’s a lot to handle for Leitao in a short amount of time, but he’s doing what he can by communicating with those around him in the way he knows best.