Photo by Eric Francis

Padding the Stats: A Time for Listening

June 3, 2020
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Considering what’s been happening across the country the last few days, sticking to sports in my weekly free space that is my Padding the Stats column would feel a little hollow. I’ve been thinking a lot the last few days, and very little of that thinking has been about the sports that normally consume my life.

On Tuesday, the music industry started a social media trend that people from many other industries and all walks of life picked up: Blackout Tuesday. For the most part, content creators put a hold on promoting themselves and their work so that black voices could fill the void and be heard. Plenty of coaches at all levels (including some at Nebraska) participated by tweeting like this:

I did not tweet the image or hashtag, but I also chose not to share the story I wrote for Tuesday morning or anything else we ran on Hail Varsity yesterday. I also kept my eyes open and tried to use my small platform to amplify the voices of those who have experienced things I never have, like this Twitter thread from former Husker Kenny Cheatham.

This comes after a few days of coaches and programs all over the country sending out various statements relating to George Floyd’s murder and racism. It was pretty cool to see coaches start to speak up, but as time went on and more statements appeared on social media while other coaches remained silent, it sparked a conversation among the Hail Varsity team.

Did the statements, many of which looked like some variation of the same PR statement, still hold value after the initial wave? If coaches didn’t make it a priority to speak up early, would doing so later be perceived as genuine, or just something they felt was necessary for appearances? Would silence be better than an insincere statement? Some certainly hit home with me and felt more genuine than others.

The more I watched social media, though, the more I realized staying silent was not an option. I saw many current and former college athletes speak up, showing that, for them, the support truly did mean something, and silence from their coaches meant something to them as well.

What I think about the statements is irrelevant. I’m not a black student-athlete.

Each of the Husker coaches chose to address the situation in their own way, in their own time. Scott Frost released a statement centered on faith. Amy Williams referenced conversations with her husband Lloyd, a black man, and her daughters. Fred Hoiberg mentioned his ties to Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, and promised to hold a meeting with his team to discuss ways to work towards change. John Cook referenced the “With Each Other, For Each Other” mantra he’s used with his team.

The statements from either people or brands that struck a chord with me were the ones that didn’t hide behind the general “racism is bad” tagline that no one can argue with and instead addressed the specific issue that sparked the nationwide protests: police brutality against black people.

In 2016, former Huskers Michael Rose-Ivey, DaiShon Neal and Mohamed Barry followed Colin Kaepernick’s example by taking a knee during the national anthem before the Northwestern game that season.

Governor Pete Ricketts spoke out against the players’ peaceful protest at the time, and on Saturday, he was calling for… peaceful protests. The irony was not lost on Neal and Rose-Ivey.

In a perfect world, the protests this week would have been 100% peaceful, but in that perfect world they wouldn’t have been necessary in the first place.

On Monday, we unveiled the cover of our 2020 Football Yearbook, featuring Dicaprio Bootle, on social media, as we’ve been planning to do for a while. Former Husker Josh Mitchell voiced frustration over the post, and my editors, Brandon Vogel and Erin Sorensen, reached out to Mitchell and opened a dialogue that is still ongoing.

On Saturday, a friend from grade school messaged me on Facebook. I had liked one of her posts the day before about the protests, and she wanted to let me know how she’d never forget that I stood up for her when another boy wouldn’t let her play a game because she was black.

I don’t share this story to sing my own praises. To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t even really remembered it when she said something; we were pretty young and my memory isn’t always the best. But that’s my point. It was just another day for me, but for her, it was unforgettable because it was the first time someone—in this case the other boy that wouldn’t let her play a game—called her the n-word. Hearing that from her felt like a punch in the gut; I can’t imagine what she must have felt in the moment.

I present all of that to say this: if you’re not directly affected in your everyday life yet you’re confused about what is going on or why it’s happening, if you’re not sure what you should or can do, a good place to start is to simply listen. Listen to athletes sharing their stories, listen to your friends and acquaintances who have had to deal with systemic inequality, listen and learn ways you can help.

That’s what I’m trying to do, at least.

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Padding the Stats: A Time for Listening

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