Running for Shoreview City Council never came to Dave Olson’s mind when he showed up at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest on a Saturday afternoon in June.
Dr. Olson, a physician with the Gophers, Vikings and Twins, was invited by some of his former players he worked with to join hundreds of people marching down Highway 96, making a statement for social injustice following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Supporting a local rally turned into taking a bigger step toward potentially giving people of color in his town a voice where they’ve never had one before.
A group of young activists convinced Olson to campaign to become Shoreview’s first Black member of its City Council.
“Politics hadn’t really been on the forefront of what I was thinking,” Olson said. “But after talking with them I was pretty inspired to give it a try.”
A 1998 graduate of the University of Minnesota Medical School, Olson specializes in family and sports medicine and has worked with hundreds of high school, college and professional athletes for more than two decades.
He’s been the primary care physician for the Gophers men’s basketball team since 2006, keeping an eye on the team’s health from near the bench at both home and road games. Working with a team of doctors for the Twins and Vikings, Olson handles primary care and sports medicine areas, specializing in head injuries and internal medicine.
For years, Olson also coached youth sports and participated in community outreach in the Twin Cities. He took it up a notch this summer, whether it was engaging in donation drives or attending gatherings of prominent athletes who were standing up in the face of racial inequality, including former Gophers hoops standouts Lawrence McKenzie, Trevor Mbakwe and Quincy Lewis.
They all wondered what more they could do to affect change for people of color in Minnesota.
“It’s easy when the adrenaline is flowing to get out and do a bunch of stuff,” Olson said. “But once you settle back down, how do you really make more consistent, long-term change? We talked about things, and they were feeling like they don’t have representation even in their own city.”
Having a deeper understanding of how to fight the pandemic from his medical background became part of Olson’s platform for City Council as well. His most recent duties included helping the Gophers, Vikings and several area high schools figure out with other medical experts the proper COVID-19 testing protocols and paths for safe competition.
“In a lot of our communities in the Twin Cities, we’re all going to be trying to figure out economically how small businesses can get back up and running,” Olson said. “I think it can be useful for [Shoreview] to have someone who is medically inclined and has done some of that to be part of their City Council and some committees to help with how that’s going to work, too.”
Bri Sislo-Schutta, a sophomore at the U, spoke at the peaceful march Olson attended in mid-June. It started in front of Shoreview City Hall and picked up momentum with stirring speeches — before ending at Arden Hills City Hall. Olson was moved. His campaign is now run by Sislo-Schutta, Gaedy Bindoula and Sarah Conlin-Brandenburg, all Mounds View graduates.
“He’s always been involved in the community and committed to supporting other people,” Sislo-Schutta said. “He kind of saw this as a good next step, to bring his leadership to the rest of Shoreview.”
Olson’s been even more visible to voters in Shoreview leading up to the Nov. 3 election, including being at his Neighborhood Nights event in Sitzer Park.
No matter the outcome, Olson’s supporters hope his campaign sends a message.
“I’m hoping it starts a pattern of more people from all backgrounds getting more involved in local politics,” Sislo-Schutta said. “We should have [leaders] that represent our whole community.”