Athletes and coaches speak out on race and BLM at home and at AU
Many discuss their experiences with race inside and outside of sports
Since protests erupted in late May, following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, many AU athletes and coaches have been at the forefront of the demonstrations and have led discussions concerning racism in the United States.
In addition to joining Black Lives Matter protests across the country, athletes and coaches have spoken out against white supremacy and police brutality, while having conversations about their experiences with race in athletics.
Incoming women’s basketball freshman Kayla Henning is one of those athletes.
In Evanston, Ill., Henning helped lead a protest and delivered a speech in her community.
“We demand that all police are held accountable in their role in upholding a system that was designed to enact violence against Black and brown bodies for the prosperity of white supremacy,” Henning said during her speech.
On Wednesday, senior wrestler Elijah Murphy joined University of Maryland wrestler Jahi Jones on an Instagram Live stream event titled “When Will You Listen?” to talk about their experiences with systemic racism. In addition to discussing the current protests, the wrestlers shared their own perspectives as Black athletes at predominantly white schools, playing predominantly white sports.
“It’s more than George Floyd,” Murphy said. “There are several hundreds of African American men and women who are dying at the hands of police or at the consequence of white supremacy and are being punished as a result of these protests. There are lots of things that led up to this, which include systemic racism.”
Last week, the men’s basketball team released a video of the players and coaching staff reacting to these protests and reflecting on racism in America.
“Silencing a voice does not create a culture of diversity and inclusion,” senior basketball player Stacy Beckton Jr. said in the video. “We have been quiet for too long. It’s time for us to be seen and heard because we matter.”
In a press release, head coach Mike Brennan said that the team has had a lot of discussions over the past few weeks about racism and events going on in the country.
"As coaches and educators, it's important that we provide an environment of support and empowerment so that their voices can be heard," Brennan said.
Assistant coach Eddie Jackson, the only Black coach on the staff, also posted a Twitter thread to share his thoughts and experiences as a Black coach.
“Just thinking about the questions that I get asked from parents as a black assistant coach/staff member that others might not get asked,” Jackson tweeted. “The first one is always regarding ‘How are you going to protect my child.’”
Jackson said he is fortunate to work for a head coach that understands issues that deeply impact students of color, but Jackson has not always experienced that in other jobs.
Multiple head coaches across AU Athletics, as well as head Athletic Director Billy Walker, have put out official statements denouncing racism and injustice against Black people.
Race has been in the focus of the athletic department for much of the past year. In December, AU Athletics hired the first Black head coach, Marsha Harper, in the women’s soccer team’s history. The University was also sued by AU Hall of Fame soccer player David Nakhid for racial discrimination. Nakhid alleges that his application for the head coaching position on the men’s soccer team was denied without an interview.
AU told The Eagle in March that Nakhid “was treated in a manner that is consistent with our commitment to equity and inclusion in all aspects of hiring and employment.”
Earlier this month, former AU Student Government president and lacrosse player Taylor Dumpson reacted on Facebook to a Black Lives Matter post by the lacrosse team. Dumpson, who was the target of a hate crime following her election, was the only Black player on the women’s lacrosse team in 2015.
“What steps will be taken to RECRUIT talented BLACK WOMEN to play Division I Lax?! Don’t tell me black girls don’t play lax because THEY DO/WE DO,” Dumpson wrote. “A post is great, but what are the next steps?”