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STIEVATER: Former and current Virginia athletes and coaches react to the murder of George Floyd and racial injustice in America

Athletes and coaches attended protests and spoke out over the past week

<p>Following the murder of George Floyd, protests sprung up across the country, including one centered on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall</p>

Following the murder of George Floyd, protests sprung up across the country, including one centered on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall

On May 25, George Floyd, an African American man, was murdered in broad daylight by Derek Chauvin, an officer of the Minneapolis Police Department. After handcuffing Floyd and forcing him to the ground, Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck, restricting his ability to breathe while three other police officers watched. In a video recording of the incident, Floyd says “I can’t breathe” and “they’re gonna kill me.”

Floyd’s death has sparked protests and riots nationwide throughout the past week. It has once again brought to light the racism and inequalities African Americans face every single day, as they have for hundreds of years. People all over the world have made statements, participated in protests and helped organizations that work in racial equity and justice — including numerous professional and collegiate athletes.

Athletes have unfairly had a controversial history with supporting racial, social and political movements. The criticism surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem was the top news headline for months in 2016 and 2017. In 2018, when LeBron James spoke about politics and the challenges he faced being a Black man in America, he was told to “shut up and dribble.” Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two African American sprinters for the Olympic team, were suspended by the International Olympic Committee when they raised their fists while wearing black gloves on the podium during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Despite the criticism that has been displayed in the past, Virginia athletes and coaches, both past and present, made their voices heard this past week.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the postponement of nearly every American sports league, athletes have not been able to deliver their messages on the field or court. Instead, these athletes participated in protests and posted their messages to social media.

Former Virginia basketball star Malcolm Brogdon, a guard for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, was a part of a peaceful protest over the weekend in Atlanta, his hometown. In a video that has now gone viral, Brogdon is seen speaking through a megaphone to his fellow protestors, delivering a message. 

“I’ve got brothers, I’ve got sisters, I’ve got friends that are in the streets, that are out here, that haven’t made it to this level, that are experiencing it, that are getting pulled over, just discrimination, day after day,” Brogdon said. “This is systematic.”

He went on to reference how his grandfather marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and how proud both men would be of the current protesters. Former Virginia and current Long Island Nets guard Justin Anderson joined Brogdon in this protest.

Former Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins, who was recently signed by the Los Angeles Rams, took to social media to post photos of himself protesting in Phoenix. He captioned this post with a quote from Desmond Tutu, a famous black theologian and human rights activist, saying, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Former Virginia guard and current South Carolina women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley attended a peaceful protest on Saturday and penned an open letter for The Players’ Tribune titled “Black People Are Tired” Sunday. In that letter, she personally reflected on how racism has and will continue to affect her. She also urged everyone who wants to make a difference to go out and vote.

“I want to give [my nieces, nephews and players] at least some hope that what happened to George Floyd will never happen to them, but I don’t have the words. Because the truth is: That could very well happen to any of us,” Staley wrote. “If you’re upset, I say keep that anger. Let it fuel you at the ballot box in November. Let it drive you towards registering to vote.”

Current Virginia football Coach Bronco Mendenhall posted his thoughts to Twitter. Mendenhall acknowledged his privilege while affirming he would stand with the black community at the University and around the world. 

“I have no way of fully understanding the fear, pain, and anger members of the Black community at UVA and all over the world are feeling right now,” Mendenhall said. “But that doesn’t absolve me, or anyone else, from our responsibility to be honest about the world around us and to use our influence to drive positive change.” 

Both current Virginia basketball coaches posted to social media — men’s Coach Tony Bennett through his team’s official Twitter account and women’s Coach Tina Thompson through her personal Instagram account.

Bennett echoed the same sentiment as Mendenhall. “Words cannot adequately capture the pain and sadness we are witnessing due to all the social injustice that so many people of color have faced for so long,” he wrote. “My mind and heart are telling me that as a white man, talk is cheap...We are united in all things. Unified diversity is powerful and right, and the prayer of my heart in these times.”

Thompson has posted many photos on Instagram over the past week, but an early one was of a painting of George Floyd. Along with it she said, “Still trying to put my emotions into words. But anger and sadness for two of the very raw emotions I feel. We Must Do Better!”

Senior linebacker Charles Snowden posted a photo on Twitter of him and four friends, including former Cavalier defensive back Donovan Rolle, protesting in Washington, D.C. The photo was captioned, “Take a stand. #RIPGeorgeFloyd.”

These Virginia athletes and coaches and countless others that have stood up over the past week, have shown that even with their respective sports in limbo, they have still found ways to make themselves heard. Regardless of if you have a platform or not, everyone should be finding ways to educate themselves and support our Black brothers and sisters that have and continue to be oppressed in America every single day. There is a desperate need for change and everyone can and should play a part in bringing it about. I may not understand, but I stand with you.

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