FAYETTEVILLE – No surprise that Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman was more urgently asked about social protest and the coronavirus than he was asked Wednesday about football.
The coronavirus has dominated national concern and conversation since mid March.
Though still unchecked and concerning, the virus has been upstaged since May 25 by the horror of a man dead under a policeman’s knee on his neck reducing his last words to “I can’t breathe” and the ensuing protests it wrought.
A peaceful protest attended by an estimated 4,000 including Pittman and many Razorbacks players and coaches, Tuesday on the Fayetteville Square both honored the late George Floyd, killed May 25 in Minneapolis and protested the racial injustice of Floyd and many other black Americans at the hands of police.
Fayetteville Police stressing on social media throughout the week such methods of policing are unacceptable, joined with protesters kneeling in eight minutes of solidarity.
Many of the coast to coast protests turned violent with aggressiveness from protesters and police In several cities considerable looting and destruction of property proliferated.
Tuesday’s protest in Fayetteville stuck to the subject, reportedly without clashes of significance.
“The protest was powerful, and I’m glad I had an opportunity to go down there,” Pittman said. “A lot of the kids on the team, were there, as well. We had asked them not to be there late (when many protests elsewhere deteriorated into violence). But we certainly were not in any shape or form asking them not to go down there. I wanted to go down there. I was very honored to be a part of it and was glad I was able to go down there along with others on our coaching staff and our football team.”
What caused him to go?
“Because I felt like I needed to go,” Pittman said. “I felt like in my heart I wanted to go. I wanted to support our football team. I wanted to support the protest. That’s what I believe in. I felt like, for me, the best way for me to address the situation, was to go be a part of what could be a solution. … I didn’t go down there for someone to take my picture. I went down there because I wanted to support the players on our football team and their families.”
The coronavirus created Pittman’s Wednesday via Zoom teleconference. It was called for Pittman to explain the procedures of the Razorbacks returning next Monday to their on campus weightroom for strength and conditioning. Coronavirus Covid-19 concerns cancelled all college athletics since mid March and compelled the University of Arkansas to conduct the remainder of its spring semester classes online only and continuing summer school classes strictly online.
In June the football coaches can have no personal interaction with the players other than continuing their virtual meetings through Zoom and such within NCAA prescribed hour limits.
Pittman said more of the eight hours per week video meetings will be to acquaint incoming freshmen, not reporting for strength and conditioning workouts until June 29, with the playbook.
The strength and conditioning staff and trainers will supervise and attend all the “voluntary” strength and conditioning workouts that will be socially distanced.
To minimize spreading the virus only 16 will work out simultaneously in the weightroom at a minimum “10 to 12 feet apart,” Pittman said.
“Weight room wise, we’re going five days a week in the weight room,” Pittman said. “There is unlimited hours involved there right now, simply because it’s voluntary.”
Four Razorbacks, defensive backs Joe Foucha, and Devin Bush and linebackers Andrew Parker and Kelin Burrle hailing from the Covid-19 hotspots of New Orleans and its vicinity, had to be quarantined before they could be cleared to participate Monday.
Should any player or staffer ultimately test positive for COVID-19 he and anybody he came in contact with would be isolated for 10 days, Pittman said.
Pittman said players have worked out on their own since the campus shutdown and he “trusts” them to report in the shape that they were in mid-March.
Nevertheless, the weight workouts won’t immediately test them to the max.
“We’re going to start slow with our kids,” Pittman said. “The biggest thing you don’t want to do is get them in here and go so rapid that you’re injury prone.”
Arkansas first-year coach Pittman said those would have been limited by injuries and surgery rehab had their been spring football, should all ready to resume Monday.
In personnel news, Catrell Wallace, signed out of Bryant as a freshman linebacker but then arrested on an assault charge, is not with the Razorbacks and plans to attend junior college, Pittman said.
Senior running back T.J. Hammonds, suspended last season’s first four games and his scholarship removed to walk-on status by former Arkansas Coach Chad Morris, has been restored on scholarship.
“The bottom line is he did what we asked him to do in school and he did what we asked him to do in the offseason in the eight-week program when we were here,” Pittman said. “So in my opinion he earned the right to get his scholarship back.”