On Sunday afternoon, student-athletes gathered together. Not for practice, not for a game or team meeting, but for a protest.
The march in support of Black Lives Matter was a joint effort from Michigan and Eastern Michigan athletes. Eagles linebacker Tariq Speights and Wolverines senior defensive back Hunter Reynolds were the official organizers of the event. The football players are members of the group College Athlete Unity — an organization that aims to “collectively address injustice and affect positive change using our privilege and considerable platforms.”
“Today, we are going to unite as student-athletes, we’re going to unite as a community, we’re going to unite as fellow brothers and sisters,” Speights said to the crowd from the steps of Hatcher Graduate Library. “And we will take the first steps to rebuild the relationship between African Americans and law enforcement in this community.”
After speeches from Speights and Reynolds, athletes standing on the steps next to the organizers put on shirts that read “RACISM” with a red line through the word. With megaphones, the organizers led a sizable crowd out of the Diag and onto State St.
“I think the issue is important,” Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton told The Daily. “I admire the young folks. They have a voice; they’re using their voice and I want to support everything that they’re talking about.”
“Before I was sheriff, I was a Black man — 55 years on this planet,” Clayton said to the crowd later in the protest. “As sheriff, I’m a Black man. When I’m not sheriff anymore, I’ll be a Black man. I have three sons from 20 to 32 and my wife and I are traumatized every time we see another situation of a Black person being shot, hurt, brutalized, not just by the police but by society in and of itself. And If it doesn’t stop now, when is it ever going to stop.”
Amid chants of “No justice! No peace!,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Hands up! Don’t shoot!,” Ann Arbor residents watched on. The front of the protest, spearheaded by the athletes, caught the eye of those in stores, driving by and eating lunch. Staring back at them were signs held by the marchers:
“SKIN COLOR IS NOT A CRIME,” “I can’t breathe,” “Black Lives Matter” and “White Silence = White Compliance.”
After rounding the final corner onto William Street the march made its way back to the Diag and people took the opportunity to speak after Speights and Reynolds opened up the megaphone to everyone.
Morgan Iverson, an Eastern Michigan track athlete, was one of the first to take the stage. Her message was clear: vote. Iverson urged those attending to make a difference in their local elections, not just presidential.
Following her announcement, Eastern Michigan football coach Chris Creighton stepped up to take his turn to speak.
“Look around and I’d imagine every single one of us has somebody here in this courtyard that we love,” Creighton said. “It’s really easy when you think about it that way to say that Black Lives Matter when you love someone who’s sitting in this courtyard right now. It’s a big thing in the world right now, but it becomes really personal and individual when you take the time to think about the people that you’re with, the people that you know and the people that you love.”
LSA sophomore student Maya Ferguson came to pledge her support. She expressed that she’s tried to do all she could this summer to support Black Lives Matter and incite change and found it most important to simply talk to people.
“Social media is such a big thing right now,” Ferguson said. “So it reaches so many people. So I really feel like when you have conversations with people and you talk about what’s going on sometimes you can really change people’s perspective or minds.
So many people say don’t mix politics with sports, but human rights is not politics. It’s something that needs to be discussed.”
In that, Ferguson and the protest’s organizers are in harmony. The event was advertised and spread via social media, and the protest was a way to create and engage people in conversations about race and society. To the student-athletes and people in attendance, that is the way forward.
“Trust me, I don’t want to hold (this) in all to myself,” Speights said. “I've been doing that my entire life. Ask me the questions. I'm here, we're all here, we want to have those conversations. We want to break down those barriers. We want change.”