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Greg McDermott's 'plantation' controversy, revisited: Timeline of Creighton coach's 2021 comments

By Zac Al-Khateeb,


Greg McDermott has led Creighton to a stage of the NCAA Tournament that only one other team in program history has ever reached — and that was in 1941.

Should the 6-seed Bluejays beat 5-seed San Diego State in the Elite Eight on Sunday, McDermott and Creighton both will advance to their first Final Four appearance. They would take on 9-seed Florida Atlantic in Houston.

Creighton and McDermott's deepest tournament run comes just over two years removed from controversial comments the coach made to his team following an otherwise insignificant loss during the 2020-21 season. McDermott, who has coached the Bluejays since the 2010-11 season, twice used the word "plantation" in an ill-advised attempt to galvanize his players.

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His comments, which by themselves would be considered in poor taste, were made at a time of heightened racial tension in the United States. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in the previous year — the former two at the hands of police — had sparked nationwide protests and marches against systemic racism, racial injustice and police brutality in the country.

The term "plantation" evokes images of the antebellum South, a time in which the enslavement of Blacks was still prominent. Because of that, McDermott — who apologized on several occasions for his comments — was briefly suspended by the university.

The Sporting News revisits McDermott's "plantation" comments and lays out a timeline of what followed, including the fallout from what he said:

Greg McDermott 'plantation' comments timeline

Feb. 27, 2021

Creighton loses 77-69 to Xavier, breaking the Bluejays' four-game winning streak. Following the game, McDermott addresses his team and tries to galvanize his players.

"Guys, we got to stick together," McDermott says. "We need both feet in. I need everybody to stay on the plantation. I can't have anybody leave the plantation."

March 2, 2021

McDermott releases a statement apologizing for — and breaking the news of — the comments he made following the loss to Xavier. His statement, delivered via Twitter, includes the full comments he made to his team.

Less than two hours after McDermott's statement, Creighton assistant coach and Coaches for Action member Terrence Rancher delivers their own statement acknowledging the pain McDermott's words inflicted:

Creighton also issues a statement.

"While an apology is a start, and while we believe this was out of character for Coach McDermott, in no way does it diminish the fact that his remark was hurtful to many and has absolutely no place in the Creighton community," Creighton says. "We have offered our full and unconditional support to those affected by his words."

March 3, 2021

McDermott coaches the Bluejays in a 72-60 loss to No. 10 Villanova. He discloses that he offered to resign over his remarks, but his players declined.

"If they would have chosen to have me walk away, I would have walked away," McDermott says in a pregame interview with Bellevue, Neb., radio station KOZN (via the World-Herald ). "But that is not what they wanted."

March 4, 2021

Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen announces an indefinite suspension of McDermott. In his statement, Rasmussen says it will include the regular-season home finale vs. Butler on March 6. Assistant Al Huss will serve as interim coach.

McDermott agrees that he is deserving of his suspension, saying "mistakes come with consequences."

March 6, 2021

Creighton concludes its regular season with a home game vs. Butler at the CHI Health Center. Before the Bluejays' 93-73 victory, five Black players who previously had not spoken publicly about McDermott's comments speak out against racism in a pregame video.

As relayed by The New York Post :

'James Baldwin said not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed without being faced,' Christian Bishop said at the start.

Shereef Mitchell then said, 'For slaves, life on a plantation was filled with mental, emotional, physical, psychological and sexual abuse. You were owned as property and not human. Slaves had no rights and no voice. They were branded like cattle, forced from their homeland and stripped of their culture, language and basic human rights. They worked 18 hours a day six days a week. Any sign of wrongdoing such as lack of productivity, not following instructions or resistance would result in beatings or death and that is why…'

'What Coach Mac said hurt me and my teammates,' Denzel Mahoney said.

Antwaan Jones then said, 'People speak about inequalities and equalities but don’t truly know what it means to be equal. And I feel like this is the start for a new conversation to be had in the future. Let’s continue to educate each other and let’s continue to grow.'

Damien Jefferson said, 'If I was your son, would it matter then? Let’s not be OK with racism. Let’s start the conversation.'

The video ends in silence with all Creighton players locked arm in arm on the court.

Following the game, Marcus Zegarowski — who did not speak in the video — offers unprompted praise for McDermott while acknowledging the hurtfulness of his comments.

"A lot of guys in that locker room were hurting from it, and I was hurting from what he said," Zegarowski says (via the Post). "At the same time, coach Mac has been a huge mentor for me and I know he would take a bullet for me and everybody in that locker room, including the coaching staff.

"I know he made a really bad mistake with what he said. Only I know everything he’s done for me as a player, but more important as a human being. He loves me, he loves everybody in that locker room. That’s my coach, I love that dude. People make mistakes, and that’s my guy."

March 8, 2021

Rasmussen announces McDermott's reinstatement from suspension after one game. He returns to full team activities in time for the team's Big East and NCAA tournaments.

"Through his immediate apology, ownership of his actions, difficult dialogue with his team, and more, Coach McDermott has demonstrated a commitment to grow," Rasmussen says in a statement. "I believe his apology, his commitment to grow from this, to learn, and to regain the trust of his student-athletes and others impacted by his words.

"From our conversations, he understands that forgiveness must be earned, and he is willing to work for it. His actions during his career reveal an individual committed to his team and his community."

McDermott also issues a statement:

"I am grateful for the opportunity to return to all team activities and rejoin our incredible student athletes, coaches and staff,'' he says in a tweet. "I fully understand and recognize that this does not mark the end, but rather the beginning of my work in learning, growing and earning back the trust of those that I have hurt. I am committed to doing better.''

March 28, 2021

Creighton's 2020-21 season ends in the Sweet 16 with a 83-65 loss to 1-seed Gonzaga.

April 1, 2021

Bishop, who spoke in the March 8 pregame video, enters the NCAA transfer portal. He averaged 11 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game for Creighton's Sweet 16 team. He ultimately signs with Texas.

April 14, 2021

Former Creighton commit TyTy Washington, considered the No. 4 point guard and No. 15 overall player in the 2021 recruiting class per 247Sports' Composite rankings , tells The Athletic that McDermott's racially insensitive comments led to his decommitment from Bluejays.

“It was definitely the controversy,” Washington says. "I really wanted to attend Creighton. It felt like the situation and the plan Coach McDermott had for me was really good. So it was kind of heartbreaking once I found out what he said.

"I just felt like the day and age we’re living in — a police officer just killed another young Black man for no reason — him saying something like that, it’s just not right."

Washington eventually signs with Kentucky.

June 1, 2021

Jones, who also spoke in the Butler pregame video,. enters the transfer portal. He averaged 3.4 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 30 games for Creighton in 2020-21. He ultimately signs with Louisiana.

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