2020 has been probably the most turbulent year I’ve experienced in my 25 years of life. While we were in the middle of a global pandemic, Derek Chauvin callously murdered George Floyd while three other police officers did nothing to stop him in Minneapolis, setting off a wave of protests against the racial injustices experienced by black people in the United States of America.
College football has become another front in this war against tyranny thanks to the bravery of several athletes being willing to speak out and use their platform. Several individuals have called out their coaches or community, from football players like Marvin Wilson at Florida State, to Kellen Mond here at Texas A&M, to most recently Chuba Hubbard at Oklahoma State.
I’m not going to weigh in on removing Sully here as my fellow GBH contributor, Kid Maroon has already done so more eloquently than I could have hoped to achieve. Instead, I want to talk about the stand these athletes are taking and why it’s so important that instead of trying to defend your coach, community, or traditions, it’s vital that we take the time to try and understand where these athletes are coming from.
I’ve taken my time reading through the comments under the tweets sent out by these athletes and I’m encouraged by the number of people who have supported them in using their platform. However, there is a sizable contingent of fans still hellbent on either discounting the experiences of these athletes or telling them to shut up and play. It shouldn’t take a white athlete to try and get folks to take a closer look at changes we need to make in our lives to be more welcoming. We should all be listening to the feelings of those within our community who are disenfranchised. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
The truth is, I probably have more in common with the majority of folks reading this than I do with the athletes who are speaking out. I am a white male from a middle class family, raised in the suburbs of a major city. The only difference is my athletic ability allowed me to set foot in the locker room at Texas A&M where I was able to realize that racial injustice isn’t a distant memory. It is still happening in our communities to this day. Maybe you can’t relate to the black athletes who are consistently profiled by the communities in which they live and work. I’m hoping I might be able to bridge the gap.
For a long time, college athletes have been told to stay away from talking about social issues. Hell, when we are given a chance to talk to the media we are normally told to stick to a very strict set of guidelines and even the questions that can be asked are often restricted. Things have been gradually changing for the better as far as college athletes developing their own voices but it’s pretty clear that the door has been blown open in 2020 and I love to see it.
The names I mentioned earlier along with every other athlete using their voice in this way are heroes to me. They are taking a huge risk by taking a stand considering that the NFL blackballed Colin Kaepernick for doing the same and the majority of companies hiring college grads probably don’t want anything to do with rocking the boat. Instead of sitting back and playing it safe, these athletes are choosing to use their platform, one that is often temporary, to try and make a difference. In turn, this is only going to empower future athletes to keep adding their voices and using their power to make changes happen in the culture of college football.
Let’s take Chuba Hubbard’s callout of Mike Gundy, for example. By taking a stand, Hubbard encouraged several other former and current Oklahoma State athletes to speak out, either about their own experiences or in support of Hubbard. With all of those voices together, Gundy wasn’t able to simply ignore an issue.
Now, I am sure there are those of you out there who are reading this and thinking “GUNDY ONLY WORE A TSHIRT WHAT IF THE CANCEL MOB COMES FOR YOUR TSHIRT” or “I DON’T WANT POLITICS IN MY SPORTS”. First, I’m sure the problems at Oklahoma State run deeper than just the fact that Gundy appears to support a dubious-at-best news network. Second, Chuba has every right to use his platform to try to get Gundy to understand why his behavior may be harmful. I don’t want Gundy to lose his job over this. Finally and most importantly, the lives of black Americans aren’t a political issue. These issues involve basic human rights. Of course, even if this were a political issue, let’s not act like politics haven’t always been a big part of sports (1980 Olympic Hockey anyone?). I want Gundy to try to understand where Chuba is coming from and by doing so, become a better developer of young men, which is what damn near every coach in the country will tell a recruit’s family his job is.
Of course, Hubbard’s call out of Gundy only highlights a bigger issue in the state of college football. The vitriol spewed at Hubbard by Oklahoma State fans and fans of other universities alike does nothing but emphasize why these athletes need to speak up in the first place. Some people won’t even consider listening to black athletes. What makes you think they would listen to the plight of the average black man or woman?
Of course, I don’t want to get too preachy here. I understand how hard it can be when you’ve been raised to believe America is the best country in the world and we don’t have severe issues. I understand being told that racial injustice is a thing of the past. I’ve been there. Changing the way you think isn’t an easy thing to do. It isn’t an overnight process and takes a lot of soul searching. It involves difficult conversations and re-examining traditions you may think have nothing to do with racism. I’m not asking you to become a saint overnight. All I’m asking is that instead of defending the way things are because you have never personally experienced injustice or telling athletes to shut up and play, take a step back and listen to the words these athletes are saying and try to understand where they are coming from. Perhaps after putting yourself in their shoes, not just their cleats, you might understand why it’s a good thing that college athletes are finally recognizing their power.