Creighton coach Greg McDermott apologized Tuesday for using an analogy to compare the CU basketball program to a plantation during a locker-room speech after the team’s loss at Xavier on Saturday.
According to a Twitter post from McDermott on Tuesday, he said this to his players: “Guys, we got to stick together. We need both feet in. I need everybody to stay on the plantation. I can’t have anybody leave the plantation.”
The comments, with racial undertones, have been difficult for the Bluejay players to process over recent days, according to a statement issued by Creighton assistant Terrence Rencher on Tuesday evening.
They're going through a "tough time," Rencher said on Twitter.
Rencher, the lone Black assistant on staff, said the CU players “have decided that they want to continue to chase their goals on the court this season with Coach McDermott,” but he said a healing process needed to take place.
No. 14 Creighton is scheduled to play its biggest game of the regular season Wednesday at No. 10 Villanova.
The team flew from Cincinnati to Philadelphia on Tuesday. The Jays could win a second consecutive Big East championship this week.
But their focus has been diverted.
Rencher denounced McDermott’s locker-room comments, saying specifically that the word plantation has a “dark and hurtful history.”
Additionally, McDermott’s speech was made within the scope of an NCAA amateurism model that has been increasingly maligned for its limitations on the earning potential of athletes — particularly as coaching salaries and profits grow in Division I football and basketball, sports where the majority of players are Black. Some critics have even compared the framework to slavery.
McDermott, in his public apology, characterized his use of the word plantation as a “terribly inappropriate analogy,” one he says he’d never used before that moment Saturday evening. Creighton had just suffered a 77-69 loss to Xavier, snapping a four-game winning streak.
In the three days since, McDermott said, he’s had “multiple difficult conversations” with players, parents, staffers and university administrators. He’s apologized to them, he said. He called it an “egregious mistake.”
“I realize the pain my words have caused,” McDermott said in his 218-word statement posted to Twitter.
No specific disciplinary action has been revealed — personnel matters are handled confidentially, according to a university statement.
Creighton President Daniel Hendrickson and Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen met with the team on Monday in Cincinnati, according to the statement. They also met with McDermott.
CU officials condemned McDermott’s postgame word choice Tuesday, stating that McDermott used “deplorable language that is inconsistent with the university’s values.” The university statement also said that officials “believe this was out of character for Coach McDermott.”
It was just last June that McDermott, like many college coaches, took a social media stance condemning racism.
McDermott said in a statement then that “we have a responsibility to educate ourselves about the negative effects of bias and prejudice on the members of our Black community.”
That was in response to the national discussion on race-related issues when the killing of George Floyd sparked weeks of protests in cities across the country.
The Creighton players and coaches have said they’ve tried to make the social justice movement a priority ever since. They’ve talked together in Zoom meetings, in team meetings and in casual chats.
CU’s players wear “EQUALITY” on the backs of their jerseys. There’s a Black Lives Matter patch on the front. A different member of the Bluejay team has spoken in a prerecorded video about racial injustice before each home game.
Rencher and 20 other minority assistants in the Big East started a coalition called Coaches For Action to advocate for change.
McDermott thanked Rencher on Twitter Tuesday for his leadership. Rencher indicated in his statement Tuesday that he’s helping guide the players as they sort through their emotions and decide on next steps.
“Part of (players’) growth is dealing with the horrible and uncomfortable truth about racism in our world and in basketball,” Rencher said. “This is real life and real issues.”
McDermott said he will learn from his mistake.
"I am committed to ensure that this will never happen again and am using this as a learning experience,” McDermott said. “While there remains work to be done and trust to earn back, I appreciate our student-athletes’ honesty and will maintain an open dialogue as we grow and learn together.”
Coach Greg McDermott's full statement
On February 27th, after an emotionally tough loss on the road, I addressed our student-athletes and staff in the post-game locker room and used a terribly inappropriate analogy in making a point about staying together as a team despite the loss. Specifically, I said:
“Guys, we got to stick together. We need both feet in. I need everybody to stay on the plantation. I can’t have anybody leave the plantation.”
I immediately recognized my egregious mistake and quickly addressed my use of such insensitive words with the team. I have never used that analogy and it is not indicative of who I am as a person or as a coach. I am deeply sorry. I have apologized to our student-athletes and to our staff, as well as to President Hendrickson and Director of Athletics Bruce Rasmussen.
Over the last 72 hours, I have engaged in multiple difficult conversations with student-athletes, staff, parents and University administrators and I realize the pain that my words have caused. For that, I sincerely apologize. I am committed to ensure that this will never happen again and am using this as a learning experience. While there remains work to be done and trust to earn back, I appreciate our student-athletes’ honesty and will maintain an open dialogue as we grow and learn together.
Assistant Terrence Rencher's full statement
I am an assistant coach at Creighton. My job is to help our players maximize their abilities as players, students and ultimately help them become productive members of society. Part of that growth is dealing with the horrible and uncomfortable truths about racism in our world and in basketball. Let me address what Coach McDermott said: I am deeply hurt by his words. While my relationship with Coach has been positive and I have never witnessed any racist energy from him, what he said was wrong and insensitive. “Plantation” had a dark and hurtful history in my community and cannot be overlooked. Right now my focus is on the players and supporting them in any way that they need my support. As we have been reminded, “it’s more than a game.” This is real life and real issues. The players have decided that they want to continue to chase their goals on the court this season with Coach McDermott and I support their wishes and will continue to pour my heart into coaching them and helping them deal with larger issues. I would like to thank each and every (Coaches For Action) member for their support at this time. This is why we created this special group.
Creighton University full statement
In a postgame meeting with his team on February 27th, Creighton Head Men’s Basketball Coach Greg McDermott used deplorable language that is inconsistent with the university’s values and commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment. Coach McDermott acknowledged the impact of his words and apologized to his student-athletes, their families and his staff. While an apology is a start, and while we believe this was out of character for Coach McDermott, in no way does it diminish the fact that his remark was hurtful to many and has absolutely no place in the Creighton community. We have offered our full and unconditional support to those affected by his words. University President the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, SJ, and Director of Athletics Bruce Rasmussen met with the student-athletes in person on Monday evening in Cincinnati and both have also spoken with Coach McDermott individually, unequivocally condemning his language. As this is a personnel matter, any disciplinary action will remain confidential.