From Colin Kaepernick to LeBron James, the place of athletes in politics and social justice movements has been a long-debated topic. But some student athletes at the University of Miami are using their voices to encourage change without hesitation.
Much like the Los Angeles riots in 1992, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement of 2020 has brought much of the racial discrimination and disparities in the United States to light. But no matter how uncomfortable some people may feel about addressing Black people and the issues surrounding their community, the fight for equal rights isn’t going away any time soon. The question of whether this conversation should happen in the athletic space has been a debate in professional athletic associations like the NFL, NBA and MLB. But college athletes across the country, including those here at the University of Miami, have also taken a stance on the topic.
The University of Miami football team has expressed their support of the BLM movement through several avenues, including gameday clothing choices and a handful of posts on social media. One post shared on the @canesfootball Instagram was of coach Manny Diaz in a shirt that said “Say Their Names” and captioned “Using our platform for a purpose.” This post had its comments turned off. In another, four players sported “Black Lives Matter” across their chests with the caption “We stand together, united against social injustice.” Although much of the post’s comment section was supportive, some of the responses were not positive. Aggressive explicatives and anti-BLM slurs from UM fans included: “Only wins matter,” “Sorry I don’t speak ebonics. Can you translate?” and “F*** that!! All lives matter!! Hope you tear an Achilles.”
Kameron McGusty, a guard on the men’s basketball team, participated in the ‘Canes Voting Rally at the Watsco Center on Sept. 17. The event was a march on behalf of the BLM movement to emphasize the importance of voting in the 2020 presidential election. Players and coaches from the basketball, volleyball, swim and dive and track and field teams were in attendance. McGusty saw the rally as a way to unite the community and show the UM student body that athletes are addressing issues related to racial injustices.
“We care about this matter just as much as we care about our sports. Our students should care about it as much as we do,” McGusty said. “We want to have the same support from our school, our staff and for them to have the same passion. Especially since a majority of the sports teams are People of Color.”
Some sports fans have expressed that the professional sports world is no place for what they deem as personal opinions. As anchor Laura Ingraham put it in a 2018 Fox News segment about LeBron James and Kevin Durant, “Just shut up and dribble.” Or as the some followers of UM’s football team stated on the @canesfootball Instagram, “Just focus on winning the fucking games, we don’t need this forced down our throats just a damn W!”
McGusty disagrees with such statements, but said he chooses to teach the haters rather than intimidate or threaten them. “Those comments hurt, it just goes to show the country we live in and the type of morals that’ve been built around our people,” McGusty said. “Me, I’m more of a controlled person, so I frown upon it. But that’s the reason why I educate, and I try to answer and explain to people my point of view. They might not feel me now, but hopefully they will down the road.”
After facing blatant racism, ignorance, exploitation and discouraging words, McGusty said he feels it’s right to speak out about his struggles as a Black man in America. As LeBron James said, “We will definitely not shut up and dribble.”
Brianna Jackson, a 19-year-old forward player on the women’s basketball team at UM, also attended the rally and participated in “Voices with Jawan Strader,” a segment on NBC 6 that focused on athletes and activism. Jackson described her experiences with hate and racism. “There were some pretty nasty comments about me,” Jackson said. She, being a stranger to most viewers on a segment about acceptance, tolerance and activism, said she has been ridiculed for reasons related to her race.
Jackson, in response to the UM football team’s Instagram posts, said that “when the football team came out with their pictures, ‘Canes were offended or they didn’t like it. They were talking about how they didn’t want to support the team anymore. They’re mad, but we’re Black.”
McGusty agreed that fans should support players in the fight for equality. “All these fans spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to come to our games. I feel like if they’re real fans, and if they truly care about us as a person, they’d care about how unfairly we’ve been treated and how much it hurts our community to see our people being treated like that,” McGusty said.
Fans expect football players, basketball players and other highly minority-populated sports players to stay quiet and not voice their opinions in the middle of a figurative race war. This nation is incredibly divided, and the political battle comes second to the 48 million people who can face death or severe injury by simply wearing a hoodie or having a taillight out. The balance of importance of human rights is skewed, but for many young adults at UM, Black lives are their top priority.
The entire UM community must confront the fact that this issue affects more than just POC. “It is important to show that the entire team is affected by racism, not just the minorities,” McGusty said. Standing against racism must be a joined fight. The “shut up and dance boy” mentality is extremely unprogressive. Our Black student athletes are people first and players second. Without their jerseys, they can easily become another victim of unjust police brutality. Student athletes lives matter. Black lives matter.
words_ rachelle barett. photo_ gianna sanchez. design_giselle spicer.
This article was published in Distraction’s winter 2020 print issue.