HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey scrapped much of his planned speech at the league’s annual media days to decry the wave of shootings across the country.
“This is one of those times in our nation where we weep, we mourn, for those families and cities who have experienced loss,” Sankey said.
Sankey said the shooting in Dallas that killed five police officers was particularly personal because he lived in the city for 11 years. One of the SEC’s schools, LSU, is located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which is where Alton Sterling was killed by police after being pinned to the pavement by two white officers.
He hoped the SEC — and sports in general — could provide a bridge in understanding during social strife.
“Sports brings people together,” Sankey said. “I think our universities do as well, and we need to be mindful and attentive to that reality and the opportunities associated with that reality.”
Vanderbilt linebacker Oren Burks agreed that football gives athletes a unique platform.
“I feel that it’s terrible to see innocent people killed for no reason,” Burks said. “Whether it’s African-Americans or cops, it doesn’t matter. We need to have a sense of honor and respect for human life. I feel like that’s basically all that needs to be said.”
Sankey also paid tribute to the late Pat Summitt. Tennessee’s Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach died last month at 64, more than five years after being diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
“Pat was a pillar of the Southeastern Conference,” Sankey said. “She’s on par with many of the great names, may have set the standard for all of the great names that are a part of this conference. Her impact is felt every day in the lives of the young people she mentored.”
The league’s 14 teams will conduct interviews throughout the week in Hoover.
Here are some other league issues that Sankey addressed on Monday:
— Sankey said he believes the league is doing very well in NCAA rules compliance, noting that in August, there was no league school under NCAA probation for the first time since 1984.
But with Mississippi and Missouri both under current NCAA investigation, that’s likely to change soon.
“We hope both of the current matters are completed in a timely manner,” Sankey said. “We understand there are issues that arise. That’s why the expectation for integrity is so high. And as we move forward together, we can’t have any more of those issues.”
— The commissioner said he wasn’t sure if the Power Five conferences, including the ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12, would come together to issue some sort of guidelines on time demands for athletes.
“I know that we will have continuing conversations around those issues,” Sankey said. “I won’t predict outcomes. And we’ll see if that leads to a statement, first from this conference, and if we collectively should say things. I think that might be the next step.”
— The commissioner paid tribute to several other longtime SEC figures who have recently announced their retirement, including Florida and South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, and Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley.
Sankey also praised longtime broadcaster Verne Lundquist, whose last season calling SEC games will be this fall.
To listen to Sankey’s comments in full, click-on the audio player above.
Jim Heuer leads KTRS Sports’ coverage of SEC Media Days all this week on the Big Sports Show. Jim Holder will be live from SEC Media Days mornings with McGraw Milhaven.