Dallas Cowboys’ British coach Aden Durde on taking a knee and diversity in the NFL

Dallas Cowboys’ British defensive line coach Aden Durde says taking a knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement is vital in continuing to address ‘uncomfortable conversations’.

Durde, who was born in Middlesex and played a leading role in the success of the International Player Pathway Programme, witnessed NFL teams and professional sports leagues across the world unite in adopting the anti-racism gesture in 2020 following high-profile cases of police brutality, including the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

England players were recently subjected to boos from small sections of fans as they took a knee ahead of their Euro 2020 warm-up games, those in opposition citing political aspects as the reason for their actions.

Manager Gareth Southgate and his players have since reiterated that their stance is a peaceful protest against social injustice, inequality and discrimination, insisting they are now determined ‘more than ever’ to continue kneeling.

This comes almost five years on since former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem ahead of the San Francisco 49ers’ third pre-season game in 2016 in protest against systemic racism and police brutality, before taking to one knee ahead of the opening regular season game the following week.

“I think discussion is good, I think that’s what it’s about,” Durde told Sky Sports. “It’s raising awareness. I think you constantly have to do it. Is it 100 per cent perfect? No it’s not, but that’s an obvious thing. I think you just have to keep the discussion going, you have to keep addressing the uncomfortable conversations and then when people get the opportunity you have to give it everything you have.

“You might not always succeed but you represent the fact that those opportunities should be there. Because what will happen is if it doesn’t work for the first or second wave of people, the next wave of people it will.”

Durde believes the continued stand for inclusivity can have a significant long-term impact in opening doors for others to pursue roles such as the one he has worked towards in the NFL.

“It’s just like how I got into football, people like Gerry Anderson, he started playing professional football and got to where he got to which helped me get to where I’ve got to and suddenly I got to where I got to and I now look at Efe (Obada) and Jordan (Mailata) and those people. It’s at different levels but to me it’s the same concept.

“I’ve got to meet Gareth a few times and what a great guy. I think that’s it, constantly keeping the discussion going and constantly never forgetting it’s there is super important and having people on those platforms using that platform to address is hugely important, we have to keep doing that. Because what happens is you get opportunities, like I got an opportunity. I think we can’t look at that and be like ‘it doesn’t work’ and look at it in a cynical way, it does.”

The push for social justice over the last year has meanwhile turned the spotlight on the NFL’s own approach to addressing coaching diversity and building on the aspirations of the Rooney Rule.

🇬🇧 coach Aden Durde goes to work with the Dallas Cowboys Defensive Line 💪

📸 via @dallascowboys pic.twitter.com/Sdba9O8SXo

There are currently just four minority head coaches in the league in the Miami Dolphins’ Brian Flores, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, Washington’s Ron Rivera and the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh, the latter of whom is the first Muslim head coach and the only minority coach to fill one of the seven head-coaching vacancies following the 2020 season.

The league had looked to expand opportunities last year by passing a proposal to incentivise the development of minority coaches and executives with draft picks.

Former Atlanta Falcons coach Durde acknowledges the responsibility of maximising his opportunity as he looks to pave the way for those in a similar position.

“I think when you talk about diversity, it’s about opportunity,” he said. “It is an important thing, a thing that has been stumped at times. I think giving people opportunity is the start.

“Yes, you have to be ready for the opportunity, yes you have to have the knowledge base to grow in that opportunity, but opportunity is the No 1 thing and I think you can see the NFL are trying to do that in the best way possible and I think those to me are some of the most inspiring things.

“Personally to me, when you get this opportunity I can’t, I won’t in my mind be bad at it because on different levels I represent a lot of different people, I know that. I represent British people, I represent people of colour, there are different things that come with that and you just have to take it and go with it in the right direction.”

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