Liberty U hires former NFL player, retired coach for diversity roles after players transfer

The Freedom Tower at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The Tower is the home for Liberty's School of Divinity.
The Freedom Tower at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The Tower is the home for Liberty's School of Divinity. | Courtesy Liberty University

Liberty University has hired former football coach Turner Gill and former NFL player Kelvin Edwards to promote diversity after controversial behavior within the school’s leadership led some students and staff to leave the school.

In a statement Tuesday, the Virginia-based evangelical higher education institution announced that Gill, who retired in 2018 after seven seasons coaching the Flames, will serve as executive vice president of diversity, development and inclusion.

Meanwhile, Edwards, a graduate of the Liberty class of 1986 and a former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, has been hired to serve as executive vice president of management efficiencies and diversity. 

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“We want the future leaders in our country and internationally to be trained at a top-notch Christian university so that people are exposed to the Gospel, are educated with Christian values, and are living out their purpose according to God’s will,” Gill said.

Gill said he spoke with LU president Jerry Falwell in November about becoming a member of the development program.

Gill asked Falwell to change the position to contain “diversity and inclusion,” which Falwell accepted.

The additions to the LU diversity staff come after Falwell faced much criticism from African American LU community members after he posted a controversial tweet in May in which he joked that he created a face mask featuring a school photo of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in blackface.

This incident, along with other issues including concerns about a professor, inspired at least two football players to transfer from the school in June over concerns about “racial insensitivity” and “cultural” incompetence.

“My short time spent with the athletic department and most professors at Liberty University was much appreciated,” sophomore cornerback Tayvion Land announced via Twitter in June. “...Unfortunately, due to the racial insensitivity displayed by leadership at Liberty University I have decided to enter my name into the transfer portal and no longer be a student-athlete at Liberty University.”

Land subsequently transferred to Norfolk State University. 

Cornerback Kei'Trel Clark explained in a tweet at the time that he did not like the “cultural [incompetence] within multiple levels of leadership” and said the leadership didn’t line up with his “code of ethics.”  

This offseason, several other players on the Liberty football team have announced their intentions to transfer. 

Liberty University tweeted an apology and message of support for the two players but placed blame on a terminated professor rather than the school’s leadership.

“Humbled by your compliments. Saddened to see you transfer, especially in the wake of totally inappropriate comments by a professor who has been terminated,” LU tweeted in response to Clark and Land. “You will always be a part of the LU family, and we will support and pray for you wherever you are.”

Falwell publicly apologized for the face mask incident. He wrote in a June 8 tweet that he refreshed the trauma caused by the surfacing of Northam’s blackface photo to make a political point. 

Falwell did not delete the tweet until he received a letter from 35 black LU alumni, who voiced their opposition to his staunchly conservative political rhetoric and activism.

Additionally after posting the tweet, at least three African American Liberty staffers resigned, including the university’s former director of diversity retention, LeeQuan McLaurin.

The 57-year-old Gill left a similar position as executive director of student-athlete and staff development at the University of Arkansas to take the LU position. 

Gill’s wife, Gayle, was also hired by LU to assist with diversity and inclusion.

Edwards is a member of LU’s athletic hall of fame as he overcame poverty to play professional football.

“I warmly refer to Liberty’s founder, the late Dr. Jerry Falwell, Sr., as my ‘father’ not only because of the intimate relationship and mentorship between us, but also because current President Jerry Falwell and I formed a fast and easy brotherhood as college dorm mates,” Edwards said. “My wife, Tiawna, and I are excited to continue our relationship with Liberty University and to uphold the charge of building Champions for Christ.”

While Edwards and Gill have made an impact in LU athletics, the goal of the two hires is to promote diversity across the entire institution. Athletics are under the umbrella of their positions, but the focus is to encourage inclusion between people of different races and political opinions.

“People who should be natural allies, and always were, have been divided in the last few decades,” Falwell said. “Through the Falkirk Center, through Liberty, we are going to work to reunite people who have been artificially divided by the establishment politicians, the ones who have shown that the only way they can keep power is by dividing and conquering. We’re not going to let that happen anymore.”

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