DePaul's Bruno coaches basketball while teaching players life lessons on race relations



In Doug Bruno's book, the words are synonymous.

In fact, the longtime DePaul women's basketball coach, now in his third decade on the sidelines, considers his job not just to teach basketball to his players, but to teach life.

And right now, in the wake of George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis, the most pressing life lessons of the day in the United States involve race relations.

However, Bruno is way ahead of the curve on that one. He's been teaching his players about the history of race relations in this country for about as long as he's been coaching. And now, he's looking to do more.

"As a head coach, with African-American players and white players on my teams, I have always believed that a big part of my job is to bring race relations in America to the forefront of every team I coach," Bruno said. "I try to act on that. You can either stick your head in the sand, or you can try to attack the issue by talking about it with education and also taking positive actions."

I've seen Bruno walk that walk firsthand.

As DePaul's television and radio color analyst for women's basketball, I have traveled with Bruno and his teams over the years, and I vividly remember one road trip to Washington D.C. for a game against Georgetown. It happened to fall around the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

We were driving around the city, heading to a shootaround, when Bruno stood up at the front of the bus, shared his thoughts on the meaning of the day, gave a brief history of Martin Luther King Jr. and then asked his players to start up with the speech.

They passed around a sheet of paper with Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech printed on it and each player read a passage.

It was a powerful moment, and the bus couldn't have been more quiet.

In addition, Bruno's teams have regularly visited civil rights museums in Birmingham and Memphis on road trips, as well as the jail in Birmingham that Martin Luther King Jr. was last held before his assassination, and the hotel in Memphis where he was assassinated.

He has also had his players read books from Booker T. Washington, such as "Up From Slavery," and research prominent Black academics such as George Washington Carver, the most notable Black scientist of the early 20th Century.

"We also show movies to our players where race is a theme and we talk about it. We talk about the meaning behind all of what we're trying to teach with this," Bruno said. "We can't just teach basketball in a vacuum because basketball is the ultimate team game, which is how life is. We have to be great teammates to have a great team, we have to be able to understand each other and learn about each other, and that's how I see race relations in America right now. We all need to be great teammates to each other."

Bruno says that he learned the most about race relations and acceptance from his own high school teammates. He grew up in Chicago in the late 1960s and played basketball at Quigley South High School.

He had both white teammates and Black teammates.

"I was blessed to go to a high school with some really great African-American teammates at a time where we watched the Civil Rights Movement and we watched Martin Luther King march in Marquette Park," Bruno said. "I remember going inside the (convenient) stores after practice sometimes, and I saw how the people in the stores watched my Black teammates.

"I feel like it's the job of white people in America to work to fix race relations in America."

So Bruno wants to do more. Far more than he is already doing with his teams from season to season regarding race relations.

During recent Zoom calls with his team during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Bruno gave out a very important assignment.

"The entire team has been challenged to come up with daily actions that we can do, small things we can do that can positively affect racial change," Bruno said. "Maybe it's encouraging people to vote or to register to vote or to do things with education or with speakers.

"I think all of us tend to get overwhelmed when we look at this problem because it is so big, so monumental. What we have to do is little things that can affect change in our own world, small daily measures that by themselves may be small, but collectively they can become really big."

Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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