Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari says white privilege has helped his life and career

Kentucky coach John Calipari said white privilege has helped him throughout his life and career.

In a wide-ranging Zoom news conference following the hiring of assistant Bruiser Flint, Calipari said his skin color has been an asset, despite a modest upbringing.

"I'm white-privileged, even though I grew up the way I grew up," Calipari, who was raised in a steel town in Pennsylvania, said Wednesday. "I was still white, which means I had an advantage. ... I had one pair of tennis shoes. But that didn't matter."

He said he has had conversations with his players about the current climate in the country and asked them to come up with responses that involve action. He said his players have all registered to vote and the program has helped some players with mail-in ballots.

"I ended [a recent team meeting] with, 'I want to know -- opinions, talks, speaking, showing -- what action can you take as a group to make a difference in maybe one person's life,'" he said. "What can we do that you can do together, or individually, that we can make a difference with people?"

Calipari has been vocal about issues that impact minority communities since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. In June, Calipari said his success was tied to "African American families trusting me with their child."

He said the McLendon Minority Leadership Initiative, an effort he formed to help create jobs for minority candidates within athletic departments around the country, now has commitments from 75 coaches throughout college basketball.

Calipari is also involved in the on-campus conversation about Rupp Arena. In a recent letter to university president Eli Capilouto, members of the school's African American and Africana Studies department asked for Rupp Arena's name to be changed because it represents "racism and exclusion." The building is named after Adolph Rupp, the legendary coach who famously used an all-white starting five in a loss to Texas Western, which employed an all-black starting five, in the 1966 national title game.

Calipari called the faculty letter a chance "for us to listen and learn." He also suggested that he hasn't seen anything to change his perception of Rupp.

"Some people agree, some people are not going to agree," he said. "For me personally, knowing the family ... what's out there that tells me it's something different?"

The off-court challenges are accompanied by uncertain plans for the 2020-21 season during the coronavirus pandemic. College basketball officials expect to make a final call about the season's start date sometime next month. Conversations about using a bubble for the NCAA tournament and the regular season have gained traction within college basketball circles.

Calipari said "we have to have this tournament," assuming it can happen safely, because the non-Power 5 programs could take a significant financial hit if the season or postseason are affected by the pandemic.

"If you take half-a-million dollars or more away from [The University of Detroit], I can tell you -- 80, 90 schools -- you take that money away from those programs, they're going to be on their backs," he said.