Scroll to the end of an athletic department email and you may see an important message.
On Oct. 22, the Michigan football team announced its plan to wear “EQUALITY” decals on its helmets for the 2020 season. A few weeks later, on Nov. 2, the athletic department DEI committee — led by assistant director of athletic counseling Abigail Eiler — gave department coaches and staff the option to include the same logo in their email signature.
Although a small gesture, Eiler believes that the committee’s decision presents an opportunity for the athletics community to demonstrate their unity on an important issue.
“Our goal as a department is (for) student-athletes, coaches and staff to be a unit,” Eiler said. “To support one another, to extend and amplify each other’s voices. So I think it’s important that our messages are consistent.”
Part of that consistency comes from amplifying the students-athletes’ thoughts, voices and opinions. The decal in the signature may be simple, but it is reflective of many athletes’ beliefs.
The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel announced that it would allow programs to include patches or decals in their uniforms in late July. At Michigan, this news was taken to the Student Athlete Advisory Council and Wolverines Against Racism, two student-led organizations, to brainstorm ideas. They provided a list of social justice-related terms and phrases, which was then presented to all the student athletes for a vote. The one with the most votes: Equality.
“The thing I love the most about this initiative is that they sent this out to everyone — not just student-athletes of color, not only specific people — so that everyone was able to be a part of the process,” men’s track and field fifth-year senior Roland Amarteifio said in a press release in October. “Everyone got an email that encouraged them to vote and suggest their own ideas.”
It is notable that the decal is an “opt-in” for the signature line of one’s email. No staff member or coach is required to do so, putting somewhat of a chink in the proverbial armor of the ‘unit’ the athletic department is attempting to create.
“When I look at the University's goals and objectives and when I look at athletics’ goals and objectives this is consistent with what we are trying to accomplish,” Eiler said. “We are looking at increasing diversity and awareness at our university. We are looking at achieving equity and understanding and bringing awareness throughout our community and the greater community per that.”
Currently, according to Eiler, there is no way to know just how many coaches and staff have chosen to include the decal in their signatures.
In the pursuit of gaining the attention of the community and engaging in conversations related to equality, the lack of information on the decal’s use could prove to muddy its effectiveness.
Still, Eiler thinks the decal being used by coaches and staff is movement in the right direction, no matter the size of significance:
“I think the signoff is an opportunity, a very small step in acknowledging we, Michigan athletics, believe in equality and that we are going to support all efforts and initiatives that align with both our school and our departments goals and objectives for year five and beyond.”
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