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Former police officer, W&M coach London vows to ‘speak to injustice’

  • Mike London clapping his hands on the football field sideline
    Valuable perspective:  When William & Mary Football Coach Mike London (center) shares his thoughts on race relations and the police, he speaks from experience. He's been there as an African-American, as a parent and as a cop.  Photo courtesy of W&M Athletics
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Perspective is a valuable tool. Mike London has it from multiple angles.

Three times he broke the color barrier as the first African-American football coach hired at a predominantly white institution: Richmond in 2008, the University of Virginia in 2010, and William & Mary in 2019.

He's a former police officer and detective who once had a suspect's gun pointed at his head. Why it never fired, he wonders to this day.
 
He's a father of seven children. And he can't help but notice the skin color of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Manuel Ellis — three unarmed African-Americans killed by police since March — is the same as theirs.
 
When London shares his thoughts on race relations and the police, he speaks from experience. He's been there as an African-American, as a parent and as a cop.
 
“With all the things I've been through to get to this point, I can add to the discussion of national discourse," London said. “This particular subject is something that I feel strongly about because it's happened to me. 
 
“I'm not about dividing. I'm about unity, bringing people and ideas together. I'm a Christian, and I don't run away from that aspect. … When I talk about bigotry and prejudice, that's coming from having experienced it firsthand.”
 
An example came in the tougher times at U.Va. After an 8-5 finish in London's second season, in which was named ACC Coach of the Year, the Cavaliers had four consecutive losing seasons. The fan base wasn't happy, and London said some comments went overboard.
 
“Signs out in front of the home, receiving calls charged with racial epithets, telling me to go home,” London said. “My kids were affected by that. 
 
“I don't say that to get sympathy, but think about it: I'm the first African-American head coach at a predominantly white institution. I wasn't embraced with open arms by everybody. There are no white coaches dealing with these sorts of racially charged issues.”

In his days as a Richmond police officer and detective, he faced situations that required split-second decisions. It's an easy profession to second-guess. But London offers no excuse for Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer who pinned Floyd's neck to the pavement with his knee for nearly nine minutes.
 
“There are good police officers out there — I was one,” London said. “But no one can defend what happened. And I'm not defending the burning and looting of businesses. People put their blood, sweat, and tears into it, and then someone who doesn't even live in the community burns it down. 
 
“I've had police friends who have swallowed the barrel of a gun because of the pressures of the job and having to go home and be, quote, human and act accordingly. I feel fortunate to have been in a situation where I speak on something like this and also have a chance to be a leader with our team.”

London is one of only two African-American head coaches at William & Mary — Kelsey Hinton (women's gymnastics) is the other. Other coaches at W&M have reached out for his perspective, which London is always happy to share.
 
“When players of color ask me, ‘Coach, what can we do,’ I understand what they're talking about,” he said. “The issue is, if all lives matter, then black lives should matter. 
 
“Right now, black lives are not mattering. How can you say ‘all lives matter’ if you don't recognize that black lives matter, particularly in the violent ways, over and over again, that we're seeing?”

While most teams at W&M are predominantly white, London's program is nearly 50-50. All four captains, who were voted on by their teammates, are white. But London is proud to see they get it.
 
“We held a Zoom captains meeting and I told them, ‘Before we talk about returning to play, we've got to address what's happening in our country right now,’” London said. “(Quarterback) Teddy Hefter said ‘Coach, I couldn't agree more.’
 
“He said, ‘I got my family together and I told them the guys who look like George Floyd on my team, I love them like brothers. If they're hurting, I'm hurting.’”
 
Although racism and police tactics are not new issues, London is inspired by the reaction he's seeing from today's youth.
 
“I think there's a new awakening of Generation Z saying we ain't having this,” he said. “White, black, red, yellow, we ain't having this.
 
“In our history books, we saw Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, we saw the hoses turned on people and the dogs, and the rubber bullets and pepper spray. Well, you know what? It's happening to them now. And it's, ‘Hell no, we ain't doing that!’”
 
London promises to always be around to help.
 
“The background I've had, the things I've been through, I might be able to do some good not just hopefully on the field but also talking about race relations,” he said. “I am going to be professional in how I talk about my perspective, my perceptions, and my reality. 
 
“I will definitely 100% show my humanity towards that. I will speak to the injustices.”