Teel col­umn

Ap­plaud young ath­letes for tak­ing ac­tion.

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE -

As can­di­date and then pres­i­dent, John F. Kennedy in­spired young peo­ple to pub­lic ser­vice and ac­tivism, most notably with the Peace Corps. Six decades later, Amer­ica’s young are re­spond­ing again, not to a politi­cian but to a move­ment, de­ter­mined to cor­rect in­jus­tice and change the world.

Ap­plaud, en­cour­age and ad­vise them, and also no­tice that many of them are ath­letes, keenly aware of their plat­forms and adept in us­ing them.

From Jesse Owens to Jackie

Robin­son, Muham­mad Ali to Ka­reem Ab­dul-Jab­bar, Arthur Ashe to Bil­lie Jean King, just to men­tion a few, ath­letes have long con­nected with the is­sues of their day. The on­set of the coro­n­avirus shut­down in midMarch and, most re­cently, our na­tional con­ver­sa­tions re­gard­ing sys­temic racism and po­lice bru­tal­ity, have mo­bi­lized this gen­er­a­tion.

Un­like their fore­run­ners, these ath­letes have so­cial me­dia at their dis­posal, and while that space is far too of­ten a haven for in­tol­er­ance and hate, in this case it’s a god­send.

Bubba Wal­lace sounds like a name straight out of rac­ing roy­alty. But this 26-year-old Alabama na­tive is the lone African Amer­i­can com­pet­ing on NASCAR’s top cir­cuit, and dur­ing a June 8 in­ter­view with CNN’s

Don Le­mon, he called for NASCAR to ban dis­plays of the Con­fed­er­ate flag at its events.

NASCAR of­fi­cials had tamely dis­cour­aged such dis­plays in 2015 af­ter a 21-year-old white man mur­dered nine blacks dur­ing a Bi­ble study at a Charleston, S.C., church. But less than 48 hours af­ter Wal­lace’s CNN ap­pear­ance, with Twit­ter abuzz, stock car rac­ing’s gov­ern­ing body is­sued an out­right ban.

Later that evening, driv­ing the iconic No. 43 car of Richard Petty Mo­tor­sports no less, Wal­lace raced at Martinsvil­le Speed­way on na­tional tele­vi­sion with a #Black­LivesMat­ter paint scheme. On­line sales of his mer­chan­dise, in­clud­ing a “Com­pas­sion, Love, Un­der­stand­ing” line, tem­po­rar­ily crashed his web­site.

Wal­lace told the Wash­ing­ton Post’s Liz Clarke that the Fe­bru­ary death of Ah­maud Ar­bery, an un­armed black man gunned down while jog­ging near his Ge­or­gia home, was his tip­ping point. Oth­ers have cited a Min­neapo­lis po­lice of­fi­cer’s suf­fo­ca­tion of Ge­orge Floyd late last month.

In­deed, there comes a time when the sheer ac­cu­mu­la­tion of hor­ror shakes us to the core and prompts ac­tion.

Af­ter Floyd’s death, Clem­son quar­ter­back Trevor Lawrence, per­haps col­lege foot­ball’s most vis­i­ble player, not only shared his thoughts via so­cial me­dia but also joined team­mates Darien Rencher, Mike Jones

Jr. and Cor­nell Pow­ell in or­ga­niz­ing “March For Change,” a peace­ful on-cam­pus demon­stra­tion Satur­day. The event drew ap­prox­i­mately 3,000, in­clud­ing Tigers coach Dabo Swin­ney and Clem­son Pres­i­dent Jim Cle­ments.

“Today, we can turn all this pain into pur­pose,” Jones told the crowd. “But it starts with each of us in­di­vid­u­ally.”

The Clem­son Board of Trustees voted unan­i­mously Friday to re­move John C. Cal­houn’s name from the univer­sity’s Hon­ors Col­lege. Cal­houn was a slave owner and se­ces­sion­ist, and for­mer Tigers foot­ball stars De­shaun Wat­son and De­An­dre Hop­kins were among the le­gions ad­vo­cat­ing change.

Also Friday, Clem­son’s board re­quested per­mis­sion from the state leg­is­la­ture to re­name Till­man Hall, home to its Col­lege of Ed­u­ca­tion. Ben­jamin Till­man was a white su­prem­a­cist and late-19th cen­tury gov­er­nor of South Carolina who later rep­re­sented the state in the U.S. Se­nate.

“I’m em­bar­rassed to say that there are things on this cam­pus that I re­ally didn’t un­der­stand,” Swin­ney said dur­ing Satur­day’s march. “I knew the ba­sics, but not the de­tails. But I’ve learned, and I’ve lis­tened.”

We all could stand to learn and lis­ten more, as new Florida State foot­ball coach Mike Norvell did af­ter the Semi­noles’ best player, de­fen­sive tackle Marvin Wil­son, chal­lenged him on Twit­ter. Wil­son ob­jected to Norvell’s im­pre­cise ac­count of how the coach com­mu­ni­cated with the team re­gard­ing Floyd’s death and said the Semi­noles “will not be work­ing out un­til fur­ther no­tice.”

Norvell hud­dled with his team the fol­low­ing morn­ing, lis­tened to their con­cerns and apol­o­gized for his mis­step, prompt­ing an In­sta­gram video from Wil­son in which he thanked Norvell and out­lined team goals for voter reg­is­tra­tion and rais­ing money to help mi­nori­ties at­tend col­lege.

Satur­day morn­ing, Norvell joined many of his play­ers on a Unity Walk — Semi­noles de­fen­sive tackle Cory Dur­den co­or­di­nated the event — that also at­tracted stu­dents from Florida A&M and Tal­la­has­see Com­mu­nity Col­lege, plus other area res­i­dents.

Norvell is among many coaches em­brac­ing the op­por­tu­nity to teach, and learn, while ex­am­in­ing cur­rent events with play­ers. That dy­namic is es­pe­cially ev­i­dent at Ge­or­gia Tech, where men’s bas­ket­ball as­so­ciate head coach Eric Reveno has be­come the point man for a cause that now car­ries the #Al­lVoteNoPla­y hash­tag.

Moved by a vir­tual team meet­ing two days ear­lier,

Reveno tweeted June 3 that Elec­tion Day should be a manda­tory day off for col­lege ath­letes.

“We must em­power, ed­u­cate and guide our ath­letes to be part of the change,” Reveno wrote. “We need ac­tion. There is sym­bol­ism in ev­ery hol­i­day, and it’s pow­er­ful.”

Reveno tagged Ge­or­gia Tech, univer­sity Pres­i­dent An­gel Cabr­era, ACC men’s bas­ket­ball and the NCAA on his tweet, and the idea blos­somed. Coaches and schools cham­pi­oned the ef­fort, and late last week the NCAA Board of Gov­er­nors en­cour­aged all ath­letic de­part­ments to des­ig­nate Elec­tion Day, Nov. 3, as an off day.

As Reveno ac­knowl­edges, many col­lege ath­letes need to reg­is­ter, or are reg­is­tered, to vote in their home­towns, not their col­lege towns. In those in­stances, ab­sen­tee bal­lots need to be se­cured.

But #Al­lVoteNoPla­y is also about over­all civic en­gage­ment, which could en­tail vol­un­teer­ing for a can­di­date on Elec­tion Day or gath­er­ing with friends, class­mates, team­mates, coaches and/or pro­fes­sors to as­sess the re­sults.

All of the above, and so much more, has tran­spired in less than a month, and as young peo­ple con­tinue trans­form­ing ideas into ac­tion, it’s only the be­gin­ning.


Clem­son quar­ter­back Trevor Lawrence spoke Satur­day in Clem­son, S.C., dur­ing a protest rally over the death of Ge­orge Floyd, who died af­ter be­ing re­strained by Min­neapo­lis po­lice of­fi­cers on May 25.


LEFT: Cup Series driver Bubba Wal­lace per­suaded NASCAR to ban Con­fed­er­ate flags at races and on the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s prop­er­ties.

David Teel dteel@Times­Dis­patch.com


In 1966, box­ing champ Muham­mad Ali sur­rounded him­self with young­sters in Mi­ami when in­formed the draft board in Louisville, Ky., had re­clas­si­fied him 1-A. Ali never spent a day in pri­son though he was sentenced to serve five years for draft eva­sion be­fore the Supreme Court over­turned the case.

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