The phrase echoed at the end of the joint video put out by the Michigan and Ohio State volleyball teams:

“This is bigger than the rivalry.” 

The teams’ tweets, posted on Friday, declared a united stance against racism by the two programs. The video alternated between Wolverines and Buckeyes who shared messages that were pieced together as a single stance against hate.

The programs have used their joint effort despite being rivals as a statement on how important combating racism is to them, a statement they hope will challenge the viewer or fan to compare the true importance of a rivalry and real-life issues.

“This is bigger than everything else,” sophomore middle blocker Jess Robinson said. “There’s sports and then there’s people’s lives that are being affected every single day. We are saying that we are not going to stand for it.”

Still, the message is meaningless if the teams’ actions don’t support their words. The first step to that is internal. 

“We will no longer be silent about issues of injustice,” Robinson said. “We’re going to speak about them constantly at practice. In the gym, outside of the gym, if issues come up we will discuss them. We won’t shy away from them anymore because we’re trying to develop as people and as a team.”

The Wolverines have also made some other changes this year reflective of world events that have backed up the program’s recent joint statement. Overall, the team has been more open for players and personnel to express how they feel. With that players have more openly shared their experiences with racial injustice. 

Robinson emphasized that the team speaks on racial injustice and the surrounding issues constantly, and coaches Mark and Leisa Rosen have given players multiple platforms to speak on these issues.

“Our coaches have opened themselves up more to us, like opened doors and letting us talk to them more about what we feel,” Robinson said. “So I just feel closer to my coaches because I feel like I’ve shown them a different part of my life and I feel like they understand me on a deeper level.”

Players and coaches have also attended marches and protests for Black Lives Matter, including a student-athlete led protest on Aug. 30. That collaboration, while not between rivals, was also between two separate schools’ athletic programs — Eastern Michigan and Michigan. And that event wasn’t the only one attended by some players.

“I know a lot of my teammates went to ones over the summer, I definitely did,” Robinson said. “I think that they were really powerful. They were necessary.”

While going to protests, having open discussions and making a rival-allied video speaking out against social injustice are all progress, players don’t want the movement to stop there.

“I know we made this video, and I think it was a really good first step moving forward against injustice,” Robinson said. “I think I’d like to see a tangible result come from this because out in this world I see a lot of promises, and I’d like to see the volleyball community really continue to push forward and actually do something to fight against injustice and fight against racism … not just let it get left behind.”

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