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Student-Athletes Lead Campus Charge for Racial Justice

Jason Scott

In the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake and continued racial unrest, college athletes throughout the country are adding their voices to the growing calls for justice. Football players and other student-athletes have taken time away from practices and team activities to participate in marches and other demonstrations.

Prior to kickoff in the first college football game of what is sure to be a memorable season, members of the Austin Peay football team stopped in Selma, Ala., to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge — where in the 1960s demonstrators such as John Lewis marched for voting rights and were met with violence by Alabama state troopers in an event that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” 

“We’ve got to teach our young men the history so they understand what happened before them,” Interim Austin Peay head coach Marquase Lovings told WSFA News. “And this is something where you don’t get a textbook right? You can actually go to a real life situation and understand what happened in life and learn from it and if we learn from it today maybe it won’t happen in the future.”

Elsewhere, SMU’s Black Student-Athlete Committee led a group of 200 athletes, coaches and administrators on a march through campus on Friday. The group, with representatives from across sports, rallied to protest police brutality. 

“At SMU we call ourselves world changers,” said football player Ra-Sun Kazadi, who spoke at the protest according to the Dallas Morning News, “and I feel like it’s time for us to change the world as it is.”

In Lawrence, Kan., the University of Kansas women’s basketball team took the lead, protesting practice on Friday and rallying an on-campus march within 24 hours, according to KSHB. The event had participants among campus administrators, including the school’s chancellor, provost and athletic director.

In neighboring Missouri, the University of Missouri football team canceled practice on Friday, releasing a statement denouncing racism and police brutality. Head coach Eli Drinkwitz told the Columbia Daily Tribune on Saturday that the team is organizing more initiatives.

“When we first did something in June, it was about voting,” Drinkwitz said, referencing a peaceful demonstration by Missouri players and coaches on June 3. “We have launched another initiative that we’ve kept in-house and plan on continuing to do in-house. And we’re doing things within the community that we don’t want everybody to know, but we are doing things.”

WBIR reports that Knoxville, Tenn., hosted a student-athlete led protest on Saturday, drawing a crowd of more than 1,000. Three Black student-athletes, women’s golfer Mariah Smith, football player Trey Smith and track and field athlete Vanessa Watson, began planning the march in June and had support from the university and athletic department. 

“The problems out there are real,” Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley told the AP about a march he led with Sooner student-athletes on Friday. “As we talk, as we discuss, we can’t come up with a better solution than unity. I just don’t know how you have unity and not include yourself and every part of your program in that. So it’s a way for us to show that.”

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