Aspen Ideas Festival: Mpls. North's football coach reflects a year after George Floyd's murder

Charles Adams, coach of the Minneapolis North Community High School football team, spoke at the 2021 Aspen Ideas Festival with North graduate Zach Yeager. Journalist Jon Frankel moderated the conversation.

The Minneapolis North Community High School football program is a dynasty that once went six years without losing a regular season game.

Head coach Charles Adams, known as Coach O.A. to players and students, says football helps keep kids out of trouble.

Adams also works as director of team security for the Minnesota Twins, but for years before that, he had a different day job: He was a Minneapolis police officer and the school resource officer at Minneapolis North.

That job put Adams in a difficult position in May of 2020 when protests and riots swept the Twin Cities following the murder of George Floyd.

Adams was called to the front lines of the police response, and the unrest threw the complications of his Black and blue identity into stark relief.

“Why am I even out here?” Adams remembered thinking.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

In November of 2020, journalist Jon Frankel covered Adams, and Zach Yeager — a North graduate and quarterback who now plays at North Carolina A&T State University — and the rest of the North high school football team for "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel."

Then, in June of this year, Frankel sat down for another conversation with Adams and Yeager about community policing and bridging divides, this time at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Adams said he missed his job as a school resource officer, and he expressed his concern for the students at North after the district cut ties with the Minneapolis Police Department.

“That puts our kids back in danger. There’s a gang war going on,” Adams said.

But Adams also outlined the broken aspects of policing that ultimately pushed him away from the profession and left him feeling pessimistic about the possibility of reform.

”Right now, I think the police culture — it’s about control. And it’s, ‘We’re going to do things the way that we’ve been doing them because we don’t like change,’ ” Adams said.

Adams saw that mindset in the police response to the unrest following Floyd’s murder: “And that’s what this whole situation was. It was, ‘The more you said something to me, the more I’m going to show you who’s in charge and who’s in power.’ ”

“And that will never go away,” Adams said.

Frankel asked Adams if he thinks in 20 years the conversation around policing will have changed. Looking back on the year following Floyd’s death, Adams seemed doubtful.

“A lot has changed in one year, but ain’t really too much changed,” he said.