Andre Miller of the University of Maine, a wide receiver from Old Town, is pictured during a 2018 football game in Orono. Credit: Peter Buehner

University of Maine head football coach Nick Charlton said black men comprised 70 percent of the team roster this season.

Three of those athletes, Earnest Edwards, Andre Miller and Deshawn Stevens, said they understand why people across the country are protesting, but they don’t support the violence that has occurred in some places.

The demonstrations came after George Floyd, a black man, died in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest after a white police officer pinned him to the ground by kneeling on his neck for several minutes.

Floyd told the officer he couldn’t breathe but his pleas, and those of bystanders who recorded the event, went unheeded. The officer, Derek Chauvin, later was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

The UMaine contingent spoke out against the violence that has ensued during protests around the country.

Edwards, who has completed his college career, said carrying signs or voicing anger is a lot different than burning cars or looting businesses.

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“It isn’t necessary at all,” said Edwards, who is from Rochester, New York. “It’s crazy, especially with this pandemic. People are risking their lives.”

“What is gained from [the violence]?” wondered Miller, a former Old Town High School star.

There have been several anti-racism protests in Maine, including one Monday night in Portland during which several hundred people converged on the police station there.

Hundreds more gathered in downtown Bangor on Monday night, while there also were demonstrations in Waterville, Rockland and Belfast.

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Stevens noted that there likely will always be some level of bigotry, racism and social profiling in the world.

The dynamic has reached a boiling point in America because people are frustrated that tragic incidents such as Floyd’s death continue to occur.

“But violence is not the answer,” Stevens said.

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All three men said they have not been subjected to racism while living in Maine.

“People are respectful up here. You aren’t constantly looking over your shoulder,” said Stevens, who is from Toronto.

“I haven’t experienced it but I have friends who live in cities [outside of Maine] who know about [racist] situations that go on,” Miller said.

Edwards said he can’t recall encountering any racial issues while living in Rochester, either. He attended a private school where only five percent of the students were black, so he was already prepared for how to live in a state like Maine where just 1.6 percent of the population is black.

According to U.S. Census data from 2000, Maine was the state with the highest percentage (96.53) of people who identified as white alone (non-Hispanic/latino).

That doesn’t appear to be an issue for the UMaine football team.

“UMaine is a very accepting community. They have embraced our team,” said Charlton, who is white. “Our team is, by far, the most diverse and we take a lot of pride in that.”

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The 2019-2020 UMaine football team included players from 18 states, three Canadian provinces and two European countries.

“The community rallies around the football team and some other teams up here,” Charlton said. “It has been a really positive experience for a lot of our guys.”

That doesn’t mean the issue of race is not discussed. Charlton said when he and his staff recruit student-athletes who are black or from another minority group, the first question they get is in regard to diversity.

“I try to be very honest with the recruit [and his family],” said Charlton, who stresses that UMaine provides a safe, supportive environment and that the coaches, faculty and staff do everything they can to ensure their well-being.

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“One of my top goals is for them to have a great college experience,” Charlton said.

Charlton was an assistant at Boston College, his alma mater, before he came to UMaine and he said he has engaged his players in conversations about racism.

“We have open dialogues. We have players from all different areas and environments and we have to be able to have conversations with them to make sure they feel they are in a safe and welcoming environment. And they need to know that if they have an issue, we will support them,” Charlton said.

Charlton said the deadly incident involving Floyd was “horrible and hard to watch.”

“Racism certainly still exists. It is our job to make sure we protect our guys and not put them in harm’s way,” he said.