By Betsy Sugar ’21, Staff Writer
In the four weeks since the Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd, institutions across the nation have faced their responsibilities to dismantle structural racism more directly, including Davidson’s athletic teams. Within these teams, Black student athletes especially have been driving forces of action and change. Additionally, the football team has been particularly vocal and active in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement by attending protests, staying active on various social media platforms, and establishing a “Unity Council” to address structural racism at Davidson.
Outside of the formal platform of the team’s social media, many individual football players have chosen to voice their feelings on racism in the United States with the complete support of their coaches, according to cornerback Nick Baker ‘22. “The football team has committed to focusing more on racial issues and figuring out how to confront them,” Baker said. “I believe by doing so, we are becoming a closer team as a whole.”
ChiChi Odo ‘22, a defensive end, worked alongside Athletics Director Chris Clunie, Head Football Coach Scott Abell, and Assistant Coach Steven Jackson to organize a Zoom call for Davidson athletes to discuss the changes they can enact on campus. The idea for the call originated from the weekly Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings, which Odo regularly attends. On June 4th, nearly 200 students, faculty, staff, and administrators joined the call. Twenty-two athletes, Clunie, and Jackson all spoke during the call.
Odo came up with three main questions to lead the discussion: What are the ways we serve our community? How can we educate ourselves and others on campus? What are the ways we can better serve our teammates and classmates?
While a single Zoom call cannot produce simple answers to such broad questions, athletes who participated did offer potential steps forward on the larger path of dismantling institutional racism and biases. Baker was one of the student-athletes to offer insight on how to best serve the greater community. He “elaborated on the concept of Davidson athletes reaching out to communities other than the affluent ones within Davidson” and spoke of his experience volunteering with the Ada Jenkins Center as an example. Overall, Baker took away that athletes “must use our platform to make change not just in Davidson, but in our communities back home and broader.”
On a more immediate level at Davidson, Julia Sirvinkas ‘20, an alumna and former member of the track and field team, would like to see a mandatory anti-racism course for all students. “We take sexual assault prevention training courses several times a year because sexual assault is a systemic issue on college campuses and in the world. Racism should be treated the same way.”
Education has been a consistent theme among teams recently. Many teams have created shared documents with lists of books, documentaries, and media from Black creators about race and injustice in the United States, as well as other anti-racism resources. According to Tavis Braithwaite ‘23, the men’s soccer team has broken up into smaller groups to learn about and discuss race and racism in the U.S. “We wanted to be really intentional,” Braithwaite explained. “We wanted to consider not only how to use our platform, but why we should do so.” Braithwaite emphasized that the team wanted to use public statements to honestly reflect the values and actions of the team, rather than as a form of performative activism.
For some athletic teams, conscientious efforts to educate themselves is nothing new. This past Halloween, members of the women’s lacrosse team dressed up as inmates with braids and gold chains, and they were called out for making use of racial stereotypes and failing to recognize injustice in the prison system. “We held numerous meetings to discuss the mistakes we made and understood that [the] blame falls on our team entirely,” Natalie Junior ‘21 said of the incident. “DC Microgagressions is a group on campus doing important work, and they helped push us into a conversation that was beyond necessary for us. The team has individually and as a group engaged in educating ourselves, and we continue to do so because the work is never done. As a team we must make space for these conversations and must put in more work to be better allies in an authentic way.”
Odo and Braithwaite praised the women’s lacrosse team for following up their words with actions. A significant number of athletic teams have posted on their social media accounts in support of Black Lives Matter, such as recognizing Juneteenth or participating in Blackout Tuesday, an Instagram trend that originated within the music industry and spread to the general public, with individuals posting black squares. Blackout Tuesday garnered criticism as performative and counter-productive by crowding out crucial information necessary to protestors. While showing support through social media platforms is a step, the Davidson community expressed hope to see these words followed by action in the comment section of the posts.
Baker himself also emphasized the importance of action on an institutional level within Davidson Athletics: “Athletics needs to hold students who have spoken against BLM and the recent protests accountable for their actions. I believe Davidson has done a good job in releasing statements to assure people that these actions are not the stance of the athletic department. However, I still think more disciplinary actions need to take place to show that negative outbursts and incidents against the minority population will not be tolerated.”
Overall, Odo shared an optimistic outlook on the potential sparked by the June 4th call. “We were not going to solve everything,” Odo conceded, “but it was a first and important step to take. There are so many good people trying to be great. There is no instruction manual on how to do this; we are the ones writing it.”