‘This has to be an ongoing movement’: Student-athletes protest systemic racism

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CW / Keely Brewer

Alexander Plant, Ashlee Woods, and Robert Cortez

Senior offensive lineman Chris Owens and many other student-athletes at The University of Alabama are tired of being tired. 

“People who look like me are fed up,” Owens tweeted on Wednesday, August 26, three days after Kenosha police shot Jacob Blake, a 29 year-old Black man, in the back several times. “As a country, we should all be tired of history constantly repeating itself. We are sick and tired of the same thing over and over and over again with no one being held accountable for their actions.”

Monday afternoon, student-athletes organized a march against social injustice and police brutality. The march started at Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility and concluded with a program outside of Foster Auditorium, the site of former governor George Wallace’s infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.”

Alabama football coach Nick Saban led the march, followed by athletes representing almost every UA sport, and delivered the opening remarks at Foster Auditorium. 

“Today, I’m like a proud parent,” Saban said. “I’m proud of our team, I’m proud of our messengers over here and I’m very proud of the message. Sports have always created a platform to create social change. For each of us involved in sports, I think we have a responsibility and obligation to do that in a responsible way and use our platform in a positive way.”

Both Saban and Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne said that they have learned a lot from their respective players and acknowledged that they do not get to see the world through the same perspective as them.

“Over the last few months, with the social unrest, I have learned through talking with our student-athletes, my colleagues and many others, there are things I’ve never had to think about,” Byrne said. “I never had to talk to my boys or worry about them getting followed by security when they go shopping. I never thought it could be dangerous when they go out for a jog.”

Senior running back Najee Harris was the first of three players who took to the podium to explain why the student-athletes decided to march. 

“The past few months have brought a greater focus to issues that have been prevalent in society for years,” Harris said. “Black men and women have been victims of racism in many different ways through police brutality and hate crimes.” 

Harris called for change and retraining of law enforcement, change in communities as a whole and change in the hearts of all people who do not align themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement. He emphasized that the movement cannot die until the Black community sees real change happen. 

“While many things have changed over the last 57 years, too many things have not,”  Harris said. 

The idea of the march began to form after the video of police shooting and seriously injuring Blake was released. Players of the NBA, MLB and other professional organizations boycotted their games late last week and focused their time to advocate for social justice. Players from Alabama football such as Owens took to social media last week to shed light on the systemic oppression of Black people. On Monday, Owens spoke at Foster Auditorium and echoed the message from his social media platform.

“As Black people, there are cultural norms that we have to learn to stay safe in society,” Owens said. “Keep your hands on the steering wheel, always keep your receipt when you purchase something. Why can’t we be equal?”

The message of equality came from all of the speakers at the demonstration, but the vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, G. Christine Taylor said that the only way to make it happen is to vote. 

“The policies that have led to the experiences we have had are set by those who are our elected officials,” Taylor said. “If you want to see change, the first thing you gotta do is get out and vote.” 

Redshirt sophomore linebacker, Jarez Parks became visibly shaken and as he reached the end of his speech. He took a pause and wiped the tears from his face.

“My life has been in a constant fear of being and knowing that no matter how educated, how intelligent or how skilled I am that my skin can be a perception changer,” Parks said. “We don’t want revenge, we just want fairness and equality, which is something we can all achieve by togetherness.”