'All Lives' Fallout: Illinois State Athletes Boycott Practice

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Fall sports competition at Illinois State University is on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, and now student-athletes are saying they won't even practice until the school meets its demands regarding diversity and inclusion.

It's been one week since ISU athletic director told student-athletes that "All Redbird Lives Mater" during a video call, sparking the same sort of backlash that the phrase "All Lives Matter" tends to bring as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

On Sunday, Kimathi Johnson, a champion track and field athlete, tweeted, "As athletes, We demand change, we demand safety, and we demand a commitment to ensuring black lives matter at ISU. There are still many more voices to be heard from our fellow athletes, however we must know the administration is committed to change first."

The following day, the ISU athletic department posted a 13-point Action Plan for Change.

Related: 'All Redbirds Lives Matter' Sparks Action at ISU

As reported by the Chicago Tribune, the walkout involves all 17 ISU sports but one — baseball.

Johnson's tweet shared "A list of demands from the Illinois State student-athletes," which includes required seminars for athletics administration staff, coaches and athletes; a commitment to more people of color in positions of power and in mental health facilities (people who specialize in minority struggles); a commitment to more diversity in athletic trainers and student athletic trainers; and make an athletic department plan of action to support the Black Live Matter movement and any future social justice movements and share with the public and on social media.

The latter demand must be fulfilled for the boycott to end, the statement says, adding that the list of demands is not final.

“We want to be on the right side of history,” Johnson said, according to the Tribune. “If we stick together, whatever happens will happen to all of us. They’re not going to kick the full track team off. It helped build solidarity over the summer because athletes did start to educate each other and ourselves during these [athlete-led] meetings.”

Illinois State is a campus of 20,000 students in Bloomington-Normal, with Black students making up 8.4% of the student population. The Redbirds play in the Football Championship Subdivision, a grouping for smaller Division I programs.

Lyons, who has worked in the athletic department for 30 years and was named AD in 2013, released a letter in early August that mentioned victims of police killings and said, “Black lives matter.” But athletes noted many other schools had already released statements and checked in on their Black athletes after the high-profile killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota sparked national protests.
Some ISU athletes described Lyons’ “All Redbird Lives Matter” comment as the last straw. 
Lyons later apologized for his statement, athletes said. But many found it hollow and began organizing the boycott and list of demands across teams.
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