Four years ago, there was outrage over six University of Arkansas women’s basketball players kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. Last week, the school’s new football coach, Sam Pittman, attended a racial injustice protest with little to no negative feedback.
Like Bob Dylan once said, “The times they are a changin’.”
When Jordan Danberry and others took a knee, they were standing alone. No other men’s basketball or football players joined in. As easy as it was for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to be unseemly blackballed from the NFL for starting the movement, it was even easier to dismiss women’s basketball players who had little to no leverage. After allowing the protest, former U of A Coach Jimmy Dykes and athletic director Jeff Long relented to the heat from boosters and legislators and forced the players to stop. Danberry, a talented player from Conway, transferred to SEC rival Mississippi State.
“Recently, you all know that there’s been a lot of killings from police officers of African-Americans and other minorities,” Danberry told the press at the time. “Me and my teammates took a knee today during the national anthem to speak for those who are oppressed. As Razorback student-athletes, we have a platform to do that.”
Well, that platform was denied to Danberry and her teammates, but that will likely change now. Following the death of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis police, a movement has been sparked. Protests nationwide, both peaceful and destructive, have signaled that many people of all races will not tolerate racial injustice. The movement that Kaepernick sacrificed his career for is finally being rallied around and has incredible momentum.
So much so that when New Orleans Saints quarterback, and all-around good guy, Drew Brees mentioned respecting the flag as a defense against kneeling, an argument that had continually won the debate with NFL owners and brass, was aggressively rejected on social media. So much so, that Brees apologized and reversed his position. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted the league office mishandled the protests.
A video circulated with several high-profile African-NFL players supporting Floyd and the movement. If COVID-19 doesn’t cancel the NFL season, you’ll most likely be able to count the number of players who aren’t kneeling. It’s becoming accepted that racial injustice is something that can’t be ignored and athletes are going to bring attention to it. End of story.
The impact of the movement is also being seen at the college level as the month’s events led several former African-American football players at the University of Iowa to speak up about alleged racism from longtime Hawkeyes strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz placed Doyle on paid administrative leave.
If these allegations come out last summer, some PR spin would take care of it. Now, not only is Doyle’s job on the line but some are calling for Ferentz, who has been at Iowa since 1999, to resign.
The Big 12 basketball coaches, most all of whom are white, took to Twitter in a combined video to condemn racism and racial injustice.
All of these points to college athletes, including Arkansas, being involved in the movement, too. Pittman and some staff attending the protest would lead you to believe he’s open to it. He seems to understand the situation and the players’ desires and wants to support them. Going to a protest could be seen as a bold move, but Pittman strikes me as a guy who is going to do what he thinks is right. That spoke volumes to his players who he is trying to get to buy into his program.
“The protest was powerful,” Pittman told the media. “I had an opportunity to go down there, and a lot of the kids on the team were there as well. We asked them not to be down there late. We weren’t asking them in any shape or form not to go down there because I wanted to go down there. But the protests have gotten dangerous at some points in some places when the sun went down and protests were later. We just asked our team if they felt good about it to leave before sunset, and they did. It was very powerful, and I was very honored to be a part of it. I was glad I was able to go down there along with other coaches on our staff and our football team.”
It also needs to be mentioned that UA men’s basketball Coach Eric Musselman and athletic director Hunter Yurachek both tweeted about Floyd and the protests.
So the stage has been set. Too bad it took four years. Really, it’s taken a lot longer than that, but maybe now that athletes, both pro and college have the power to use their platform that will be one of the catalysts that will helps defeat racial injustice.
Image courtesy of University of Arkansas Athletics Department