Michigan players considered skipping practice, but ultimately go on amid social justice reckoning

Thursday, August 27, 2020 - 4:38pm

Michigan football players considered skipping practice to protest social injustice.

Michigan football players considered skipping practice to protest social injustice. Buy this photo
Alexis Rankin/Daily

In the past 24 hours, athletes in five different professional sports leagues have sat out games to raise awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement. At Michigan, practice has gone on.

Though the Big Ten decided Aug. 11 to postpone all fall sports to the spring, the Wolverines are still holding regular practices. In June, many team members, along with Jim and Jay Harbaugh, attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Ann Arbor. But since the Sunday shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisc., the Wolverines decided that, though they may not know the best way to promote social justice, they do not believe it’s by sitting out practice. 

“We talked about kind of like the whole boycotting practice type of thing and we just didn’t really know what kind of message that’s actually sending, if that is gonna promote any real change just by sitting out a private practice,” senior fullback Ben Mason said. “But we’re really aware of it and it’s honestly horrible everything that’s going on. Any way that we can promote change, we’re gonna find ways to.”

Some football players have promoted an upcoming Black Lives Matter protest with Eastern Michigan athletes on social media.

Mason, who is white, noted that he will never know what it’s like to live in America as a Black man, but he’s had conversations with teammates about their experiences.

When asked if they supported the decisions by players in other leagues to sit out games, neither directly answered the question. Both instead provided a message of unity and love.

“I stand with my teammates,” Hutchinson said. “Those guys are my brothers and I feel for them whatever they feel, I feel for them, we are united through all this.”

Now more than ever, college football players have a unique platform with which to speak their mind and affect change. Both players recognized that, with Mason pointing to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence as an example of someone who used social media to speak his mind. Lawrence has been a key voice in the #WeAreUnited and #WeWantToPlay movements, calling for, among other things, the creation of a college football players’ association.

As Hutchinson and Mason spoke with reporters via Zoom, their teammates spoke out against police killings and President Donald Trump. Sophomore wide receiver Mike Sainristil tweeted, “Why do we have to wake up with the fear of being killed because of our skin color?” Cornerback Ambry Thomas, who recently declared for the NFL Draft, wrote, “The leader of this country has been provoking this type of behavior since day 1! I’m not surprised by the behavior but it has to STOP!” and “Can’t love no land that kills my people for being black.”

Despite saying they were unsure of the best way to promote such causes, both Mason and Hutchinson said they stood with their teammates and that it was important to come together to effect change.

“Something in America needs to change,” Mason said. “If I had the answer, I would say, but I don’t necessarily know how we’re gonna promote the change but at the end of the day we need to unite and come together and basically just all love each other.”