Texas football players listen to teammate Caden Sterns speak during a team march to the Capitol to protest the killing of George Floyd on June 4, 2020. [JAY JANNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Football

Longhorns lend their voices to a chorus as college athletes speak up against racial injustices

Posted July 16th, 2020

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At 1:59 p.m. on June 12, Caden Sterns sent out a tweet.

Jared Wiley published the same tweet at the same time. As did fellow Texas football teammates Tope Imade, Willie Tyler and David Gbenda. Over the next few minutes, those players were joined by teammates and other members of UT’s athletic department in delivering a coordinated and unified message.

The shared tweet — from around 40 student-athletes, both Black and white — was clear. UT athletes had taken note of long-ignored racial issues on their campus. They published a list of changes they wanted to see. And until Texas’ administration responded in a satisfactory way, the football players did not plan on participating in any events that included recruits or donors.

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The athletes were not alone in their battle against racial injustices at Texas, nor were they trailblazers. Black students have been fighting for on-campus equality for years. This movement, though, spurred a quick response.

Read more: UT making sweeping changes in response to athlete requests but keeps ‘The Eyes of Texas’

University of Texas football players kneel in silence for nine minutes at the end of a team march to the Capitol on June 4 to protest the killing of George Floyd. [JAY JANNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
On Monday, Texas announced how it would address the concerns raised by its student-athletes. The school plans to invest money in the recruitment and retainment of Black students. The Robert L. Moore Building, which was named for a UT professor who favored segregation, will be renamed. A statue of Heman Marion Sweatt, the first African-American admitted to the university’s law school, and a monument honoring the first Black undergraduates will be erected on campus.

In honor of UT’s two Black Heisman Trophy winners, the field at Royal-Memorial Stadium was renamed Campbell-Williams Field. Julius Whittier, the football program’s first Black letterman, will also be recognized with a statue at the stadium.

Texas last held a media availability for its players on June 11. But after the UT administration revealed its plan on Monday, Sterns tweeted, “Great day to be a Longhorn, want to thank the students, athletes, administration, alumni and those behind the scenes working who made this happen.”

The racial awakening at Texas follows the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was killed in Minneapolis on May 25 after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest. Following Floyd’s death, protests arose across the country. Joining these protests have been college athletes. Texas A&M, Florida State and a couple of Big 12 schools have also seen their athletes demand changes on their own campuses.

Last month, Kansas State athletes pledged to not play again until the school addressed a controversial and offensive tweet by a fellow student. Kansas State did not punish the student, but the Wildcats’ protest ended after the school launched a diversity and inclusion fund.

“Proud of the guys,” Wildcats football coach Chris Klieman tweeted. “We will continue to grow and work to end racism across our great campus.”

Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard, who led the country in rushing last year, drew national focus when he publicly challenged his head coach over the summer. (Sue Ogrocki/The Associated Press)

At Oklahoma State, star running back Chuba Hubbard was among the football players who refused to participate in team activities after head coach Mike Gundy was photographed in a T-shirt that promoted the far-right One America News Network. After an investigation, Oklahoma State determined that there was no connection between race and Gundy’s choice of shirt. But the longtime coach agreed to take a $1 million paycut and was scolded for the off-field relationships he had built with players.

“This issue is fixable,” Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis tweeted.

A statement shared by Kansas State athletes earlier this month acknowledged that “we know that this process is far from completed, and should it slow or diminish for any reason we would re-evaluate the situation and our options at that time.” Kansas State soccer player Emily Crain told the Wichita Eagle that “It doesn’t stop here. This needs to continue. The action plan that our university made isn’t going to be enough.”

That sentiment is likely shared at Texas. After all, not all of the athletes’ requests were granted. Texas opted against renaming Painter Hall, Littlefield Hall and the James Hogg Auditorium. The decision to put a statue of Sweatt outside a building named for T.S. Painter, the former UT president who opposed Sweatt’s admission, has been criticized.

“The Eyes of Texas” also was kept as the school’s alma mater. Texas did pledge to teach students about the song’s history, which includes distant but troublesome ties to minstrel shows and a saying by Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Athletes will no longer be required to stand for the song at games. Sterns, a junior safety, and senior linebacker Juwan Mitchell have already stated that they will not sing it.

Bryan Carrington, the football program’s director of recruiting, insisted online that Monday’s moves had to be the first step, not the final one. Throughout the day, many athletes agreed that this was just the beginning.

“This is a great first step,” tweeted Logan Eggleston, a captain on UT’s volleyball team. “(Let’s) continue making positive changes on our campus!”

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