Activism in athletics: what student-athletes are doing to promote social justice

Anjelica Ortiz

Ever since the death of George Floyd, people all around the world have been protesting and calling for justice for lives lost at the hands of police. This has sparked outrage among the general public, and many celebrities have used their platforms to speak out against these wrongdoings. 
These protests and callings do not exclude professional athletes and coaches. Professional sports teams all around the country have used their platform to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The WNBA, NBA, MLB and MLS all boycotted games in August to show their support. 
At the collegiate level, many athletes are making statements and fighting for justice. This activism extends to Augustana. Some Augustana athletes and coaches have been showing their support and have spoken up about what they believe can be done to promote inclusivity in Augustana sports.
Recently, a vigil was held here at Augustana to honor the lives lost at the hands of police and to call for support from fellow Augie students. Many athletes and coaches attended the event to show their support and learn what they can do. 
Many coaches have reached out to their athletes, and continue to create an inclusive environment for everyone on the team. Football Coach Steve Bell is one of them.
“I approached some of our kids, black kids on our football team, and I asked ‘what can we do as coaches to do a better job’…. But I do think that’s very positive for our football team to bring small town kids, Chicagoland kids, different skin color it doesn’t matter to us, it’s all about family,” Bell said.
Bell thinks that there is still more work to be done in Augustana sports programs to be more inclusive and to push diversity. “We’ll fall short at times, but I think it starts a lot at the recruiting process and making sure that you are recruiting kids that are coming from different places,” Bell said. 
But some coaches don’t go out of their way to have talks with their teams about social injustice. “Coach hasn’t gone out of her way to make it an inclusive environment for people of color, but all the members of Augie Lax definitely facilitate a culture of welcome,” Lizzy Cook, senior, said. 
“It is no secret that there is not a lot of racial diversity in lacrosse overall. I can count the number of other black girls that I have met during my seven years playing lacrosse on one hand,” Cook said. 
Several student athletes are advocating for change in the sport programs. Caleb Minnis, men’s volleyball player, spoke out at the vigil about his experience. He is ready for change in the dynamic of Augustana sports. 
“Educate yourself as a member of the staff at Augustana and make sure that your students know that their difference in race, ethnicity, or sexuality should not get in the way of us as athletes,” Minnis said. “Make sure you realize that these are cases of a player being attacked based on his race and that it is not okay to turn your cheek or punish the athlete without them knowing what they did was wrong. Create the conversation.”
Cook also advocates for change in sports and women’s lacrosse. 
“The Athletic Department always stresses to student athletes that we set an example, that we are all leaders on this campus and that everything that we do is a direct reflection on the whole program,” Cook said. “We go through a second bystander intervention training and I see no reason that they could not do a similar thing for diversity training.” 
Dr. Monica Smith is holding a virtual workshop beginning on Oct. 12 aimed specifically for student athletes on diversity and inclusion. All athletes from all sports teams are strongly encouraged to participate. The goal of this workshop will be to help student athletes use their position on campus to be leaders in advocating for change. 
“I am a senior at Augustana and this interview is the first time anyone has ever asked me whether I feel comfortable or safe as a student athlete,” Cook said. “I think that Augie could do more to make sure that their athletes of color are acclimating to this new environment, especially because we are a gross minority at the school and in the athletic department as a whole.”