In the year 2020, it seems as though everything anyone is talking about is the global pandemic COVID-19, and rightfully so. However, in the United States, themes of racial injustice and prejudice attracted many headlines after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, giving people of color a large platform to advocate and raise awareness about the atrocities being committed in this country day in and day out. Two Virginia student-athletes — twin sisters Myla Barnett of women’s lacrosse and Hailey Barnett of rowing — have used this time to use their platform to advocate for what they believe in.
At the beginning of the summer, in the midst of national uproar over the murder of George Floyd, the twins’ mother Jacqueline Barnett was on her way to a Black Lives Matter march and had an idea about how the girls could impact their communities. Soon after the march ended, she went to the twins and brought up how their positions as student-athletes gave them a platform to effectively spread their messages and stories.
Right away, the twins filmed a video showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, then posted it to Instagram under an account they created for the project — @athletes4blm. Their first video now has over 8,000 views while the account has nearly 2,500 followers. As a former NFL wide receiver, the twins’ father Fred Barnett also understands the power that athletes have to stimulate change and helped create the second video on the account, which touched on what it is like to be an African American in America today.
Over time, there have been over 80 athletes that have used this platform to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and share their personal stories and experiences with racism. Myla Grace spoke on behalf of @athletes4blm and the impact it has had so far on the college athletics community and beyond.
“Our mission, above all else, is to maximize athletes’ platforms to talk about their experiences and support for the Black Lives Matter movement,” Myla said. “It can really influence the youth and society [as a whole].”
As for which athletes and coaches have been featured, they range from collegiate to professional and male to female, and had athletes featured of all different ethnicities. The @athletes4blm Instagram has videos featuring a variety of current and former lacrosse stars, including Kyle Harrison, Taylor Cummings, Kayla Treanor and Chazz Woodson, but given the sisters’ affiliation with the University, there is a large presence of Virginia-affiliated figures on the page — 12 in total.
“We are both so thankful for the videos and participation, especially from a place we call home and our school,” Myla said. “It is so comforting to have people support us and offer their voices. Regardless of how many likes or views it gets, it’s great to know that we have support from notable people at our University.”
Just some of these Virginia athletes include senior football players Charles Snowden and Terrell Jana, senior rower Abbie Bird, and junior Jayden Nixon and sophomore Justin McKoy of the men’s basketball team. A few Virginia coaches were featured as well, including men’s lacrosse Coach Lars Tiffany and women’s rowing Coach Kevin Sauer.
In his post, Tiffany shared his thoughts on the importance of advocating for change in society and how his thoughts on the American flag have evolved over the years. Additionally, he brought up New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his comments about how he would never agree with anybody disrespecting the American flag, which drew criticism from many activists.
“[Brees] gave us an apology, and he truly understood,” Tiffany said. “Many Americans have had that opinion because we hold the flag so sacred, but the reality is that that flag gives all of us the right to protest, even the right to protest the flag itself.”
Tiffany also mentions three key ideas that many Americans do not get to live and experience — justice, opportunity and social equity. In a sport such as lacrosse with very low levels of racial diversity — in 2019, only 3 percent of all NCAA D1 lacrosse players were African American compared to 32 percent across all sports — having one of the greatest coaches in the game today share his message meant a lot to the lacrosse community.
Myla had always been a minority on every one of her teams growing up and looked at Athletes4BLM as a great opportunity for notable and well-known athletes in the world of lacrosse to recognize and respond to the prevalent racial disparity in lacrosse. While racial diversity is still not prominent across the NCAA lacrosse landscape, including in Virginia’s own teams, Barnett recognizes her teammates and coaches’ support for her and the movement that she has created.
“They’ve definitely all shown support, including [Coach] Julie [Myers], [assistant coach] Colleen [McCaffrey], and [assistant coach] Lindsay [Magro],” Myla said.
In addition, the women’s lacrosse team as a whole has taken steps towards advocating for change. The team posted a video to their official Instagram account in support of the Groundskeepers Initiative, which garnered nearly 2,500 views in just over a day. Started by a group of Virginia football players, the Groundskeepers Initiative is a new community initiative in which players and coaches alike commit to an individual goal to advocate against racial injustice. The women’s lacrosse team committed to a variety of different subjects, such as holding oneself accountable, voting, educating oneself and speaking up and taking action.
As the community moves forward each day, the mission and goals of this social media campaign remain unchanged. The Barnett sisters truly believe that there is a need for change in this world and their platform has had a direct impression on the lives and opinions of tens of thousands of people, and a countless number of people indirectly.
“It’s so much bigger than us and we want to make steps toward change,” Myla said. “We’re not only just athletes that can perform and be great aides to winning competition, but we’re people and we matter outside of our uniforms.”