UMass linebacker Trey Seals’ thoughts are on his home state of South Carolina following last week’s tragedy

Last modified: Wednesday, August 12, 2015
When he heard the news, Trey Seals’ first concern was his brother.

Greg Seals’ home in Charleston, South Carolina, is just 15 minutes from the site of last week’s shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“He was the first person I called. I called him and called my family,” said Seals, a rising senior linebacker on the UMass football team who is from Columbia, the state capital about 100 miles away.

Once he’d confirmed the safety of his brother and other family members, the immediate urgency passed, but not the concern. Seals shared the nation’s collective horror as he processed the unfolding news that a white shooter with a history of espousing racist rhetoric had entered the historically black church and killed nine people.

“It was hard to understand at first. They didn’t have that much information,” said Seals, who is African American.

Even as more details emerged, the sheer evil was still hard to comprehend.

“You never can know who is capable of doing something like that. Things like that can happen at any time,” Seals said. “You have to stay prayed up. Outside of that, that’s all you can really do.”

As a rare Palmetto State native in Massachusetts, and the only one on the UMass football team, Seals said a lot of people have asked him about the racial climate in South Carolina in the wake of the tragedy.

“In the past few days, a lot of people have asked me how it is to live down there. That was just one incident. Most experiences I had down there were positive,” he said. “I love where I come from. It’s a great state.”

That opinion was enhanced by the way its people reacted. The alleged killer, Dylann Roof, reportedly hoped the incident would start a race war. Seals was proud that it didn’t, proud that so many people came together to support each other.

“I wish that didn’t happen, but I’m glad we came together as a state and rallied around each other,” Seals said. “Just to see all the support from in the community. They had a demonstration across one of the bridges in Charleston where people stood hand-in-hand across the bridge. All races and economic backgrounds. It was great to see everyone come together instead of rioting.”

While nothing would make up for the loss of lives, he hoped the incident would be a catalyst for positive change.

“As long as people look at the issues that need to be talked about and work on fixing that issue, then some positives can come from it,” he said.

Whether it begins a larger conversation about the complex race issues in this country remains to be seen, but it has made the presence of the Confederate flag at the South Carolina State House a hot-button issue. Calls for its removal have come from inside and outside of the state as people hope to eliminate a symbol that reminds many people of the history of oppression of African Americans in that state and the country as a whole.

As a football player, Seals was glad to see South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier reaffirm his position Tuesday. In 2007, long before the Charleston tragedy, Spurrier weighed in on the issue.

“I realize I’m not supposed to get in the political arena as a football coach,” he said at a press conference, “but if anybody were ever to ask me about that damn Confederate flag, I would say we need to get rid of it. I’ve been told not to talk about that. But if anyone were ever to ask me about it, I certainly wish we could get rid of it.”

Spurrier is a beloved figure in the football-devoted state and Seals thought his bipartisan appeal might give his opinion more weight.

“Everybody loves the Gamecocks down there. Sports brings people together. It’s one thing we can all gather around and root for,” Seals said. “It was very important that Steve Spurrier spoke out in support of (taking the flag down). When Steve Spurrier speaks in South Carolina, everyone listens.”

Seals thought South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s call for its removal sent the right message.

“It’s going to help minorities feel like it’s a step forward in the right direction,” he said. “To see the governor at the press conference calling for the flag to be taken down was pretty encouraging. I was glad to see that she supported us. It’s a good start. It’s not going to end everything entirely, but it’s a good start.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage