Ninety-five degrees outside and blisteringly worse if you happened to be standing in the sun. The doors in and out of the Hendricks Training Facility face the sun. It was uncomfortably hot.
Nebraska basketball players, one by one and dressed in all black—shorts with a small Nebraska logo on the side and plain Adidas t-shirts, the kind without any Nebraska markings, the kind you choose intentionally, walked out the front door, stepped in front of a podium, and said “I stand here today for…” before each player named a victim of police brutality and racial injustice.
“I stand here today for Jacob Blake,” said the first Husker.
“I stand here today for George Floyd,” said the next.
“I stand here today for Breonna Taylor,” said the next.
“I stand here today for Ahmaud Arbery,” said the next.
“I stand here today for Tamir Rice,” said the next.
“I stand here today for Trayvon Martin,” said the next.
“I stand here today for Sandra Bland,” said the next.
“I stand here today for Aura Rosser,” said the next.
“I stand here today for Tanisha Anderson,” said the next.
“I stand here today for Stephon Clark,” said the next.
“I stand here today for (Michael) Brown,” said the next.
“I stand here today for Alton Sterling,” said the next.
As they stepped away from the podium, they positioned themselves together in a line to the left and the right. Head coach Fred Hoiberg followed, stepping to the mic and saying “I stand here today for all Black lives,” before stepping back and standing behind his players.
Nebraska basketball had announced earlier Thursday afternoon it would be making a statement as a team “regarding social justice.”
The death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minnesota sparked a social justice movement the likes of which the country hadn’t seen since Martin Luther King Jr. marched. Nearly three months after Floyd’s death, the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot seven times in the back by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has exacerbated the situation. Two more died during a protest in Kenosha Wednesday night.
In protest of Blake’s shooting on Wednesday afternoon, the Milwaukee Bucks, Wisconsin’s NBA franchise, did not take the court inside the league’s Orlando bubble for Game 5 of its first-round playoff series with the Orlando Magic. The Magic, in turn, left the court as well and declined to accept the Bucks’ refusal to play as a forfeit.
While inside the team’s locker room, according to an ESPN report, Bucks players held a Zoom call with Wisconsin lieutenant governor Mandela Barnes and attorney general Josh Kaul—facilitated by the team’s owner and VP—in order to talk about actions they could take to impact change. After leaving the locker room, the team’s players called for the Wisconsin State Legislature to reconvene “after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.”
The NBA later termed the game “postponed,” but the Bucks’ decision to strike forced a chain reaction.
The second game of the day, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets, was also called. Eventually, every Game 5 scheduled to take place Wednesday and Thursday was “postponed” by the league.
According to multiple reports, NBA players and coaches met Wednesday night to discuss their next steps, a meeting during which the two Los Angeles teams, the Lakers and Clippers, led by LeBron James, voted to end the season and leave the bubble. There was reportedly momentum to end the playoffs but not enough support across the board. The expectation is that play will resume sometime over the coming weekend.
Outside of the NBA’s bubble, the Bucks’ move resulted in several games in the WNBA, Major League Baseball, and Major League Soccer to halt.
Though not in season yet, Nebraska’s players wanted to say something. They organized Thursday’s public statement, and Hoiberg gave them the runway to do so.
“We stand together as one to find ways to educate people to hopefully stop this terrible trend of lives being lost for no reason,” guard Kobe Webster began. “This is not a political fight. This is about being a decent human being.
“Hate is such a strong word that unfortunately is used and acted on too much in today’s world. We know we are not going to change everything that’s going on by standing here today, the goal for us is simply to make our community and our state stand behind us in not accepting these injustices as OK and turning a blind eye. We cannot allow this great country to be filled with so much hatred and anger towards one another. It is not a place we want to live in, knowing when we leave the house, we may not return because someone views us as a threat, a threat being our skin color, or wearing a hoodie, or by simply looking different than someone else, or sadly by sitting in our own living room.”
Then it was Allen’s turn to speak.
“There is no denying that we have different stories and backgrounds,” he said. “We all have moments in our lives where we have had to overcome something, but the color of my skin is different, putting me at a higher risk. We are tired of talking about the same things over and over while losing precious lives along the way. Are we fighting a pointless fight? How many more hashtags have to be created by the police for people to start caring. We cannot only care when it’s convenient. We cannot only care when it impacts us directly.
“Caring about someone else’s life should fall within basic human ideals. We are standing here together as Black and white people, making it clear that we are sickened by the events taking place in our country involving police brutality and systematic injustices toward our Black people. We want to play a role in change, and we want you all to join us.
“No more hashtags, only change.”
And with that, the players walked back inside their training facility. No questions. No follow-ups.
Nebraska basketball has been the athletic department’s voice on issues of social justice in recent years. That has been no more evident than since the death of Floyd. Hoiberg was one of the first coaches to issue a public statement following Floyd’s death in May.
He announced on June 10 the team would have Nov. 3, Election Day, off from basketball activities to allow his players to vote. A week later, the basketball Twitter account posted a video saying “Our lives matter.”
Our Lives Matter pic.twitter.com/aMHjPPLiYc
— Nebraska Basketball (@HuskerHoops) June 18, 2020
Thursday’s statement marks the latest demonstration by the team, though it might not be the last.
Here’s the full video from Thursday afternoon.
(Speakers in order: Chris McGraw, Elijah Wood, Eduardo Andre, Trey McGowens, Derrick Walker Jr., Lat Mayen, Dalano Banton, Thorir Thorbjarnarson, Akol Arop, Trevor Lakes, Yvan Ouedraogo, Shamiel Stevenson, Hoiberg, then Webster and Allen.)
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.