By Max Zonana
The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked nationwide protests and a conversation on systemic racism and police violence that began in the spring and has persisted months after. Inside Stanford Athletics, teams collaborated on solidarity statements, started conversations on diversity and inclusion in college sports, and worked to make spaces to elevate Black athletes’ voices.
Coaches and directors also expressed their support for Black Lives Matter and the student athletes themselves in emails to the players.
Following these deaths, Junior swimmer Jack Levant reported he received emails from his head coach Dan Schemmel and weight coach Anthony Tran communicating their support for him and the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as expressing their willingness to listen to any perspectives Levant could offer on necessary change within the program.
While it was appreciated, Levant found that receiving the messages felt bittersweet.
“The only real negative in my eyes is that it took until now for me to get messages like that,” Levant said.
Like Levant, men’s basketball’s junior guard, Bryce Wills, has received emails from the athletics department saying “they are in or with us on our side of the fight.”
“Stanford Athletics is committed to fostering an inclusive environment that promotes sustained and lasting racial equity and reform while providing guidance, education and resources to all members of its community,” Assistant Athletics Director Brian Risso wrote in a statement on behalf of Stanford Athletics.
Risso also reported that the athletic department, including its director Bernard Muir, is regularly meeting with CardinalBLCK, a student athlete group founded in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement by senior gymnast Kyla Bryant and women’s basketball senior Maya Dodson. CardinalBLCK aims to create a community for the Black student athletes at Stanford. According to Bryant, Stanford Athletics supported them in starting CardinalBLCK and has continued to support the group.
“It’s great to have institutional support,” said Thomas Booker, a junior defensive end for Stanford football. “And the fact they’re not only accepting of this but are trying to push it, you know, it’s definitely fantastic to see as a black male, black person, a black student-athlete at Stanford.”
For Bryant, CardinalBLCK provides a space that she has always wanted.
“Ever since I was a freshman, I joked with a friend and was like, ‘oh, that’d be so fun if we had, like, a Black student-athlete organization,’” she said.
In the wake of the nationwide movement, Bryant talked to her fellow Black student athletes and found they were also interested in creating a community for themselves as Black student athletes. But no one else seemed to be starting one, so she and Dodson started one themselves, hoping to be the change she and others desired within their community and the community at large.
“We wanted to create a space for black student-athletes to feel heard and to feel celebrated,” Bryant said in reference to one of the group’s foundational goals. “And to kind of spread knowledge and about the things that aren’t really talked about much.”
Aside from serving as a space of community for Stanford’s Black student athletes, CardinalBLCK aims to educate people on “what it’s like being a black student athlete on campus,” Bryant said.
At Stanford, having to frequently attend a set of new classes with new people is routine due to the quarter system, but for Booker, new classes are a continuing reminder of the “non-intelligent” student athlete stereotype, which is poses a heavier burden for him as a Black football player. When he gets called on the first couple of times, he wonders if his classmates will think his contribution is intelligent or “a boneheaded comment.”
“Alright, I need to make the best answer … and I need to have everybody be thinking about what I said,” Booker said, describing the thoughts he has before answering that first question. “You know, just to counter what their assumptions [of me] may be coming into the class.”
Like Booker, Wills sometimes feels very self-conscious of what others think of him, both academically and athletically. According to Wills, he feels like he cannot be “too Black” or “ghetto” and worries about doing “a good enough job” to fit in.
Levant said he sometimes feels isolated on the swim team because of the lack of diversity within the sport, which he attributes to the socio-economic barriers of swimming, such as the lack of reliable access to pools or other costly training facilities necessary for high-level competition.
“There are certain things that come with being from my background that a lot of people don’t understand and a lot of people can’t relate to,” Levant said. “I do feel isolated sometimes but it’s not because of anything that anyone does or says it’s more just the lack of representation in the sport that’s led to me feeling this way.”
Many leagues and teams have made plans for including social awareness messages on jerseys or helmets and pledge to donate. The NCAA on July 30 announced that uniform social justice patches on the front and back will be allowed for all sports.
Much of the support expressed by various teams and organizations has taken place on social media, such as an upcoming video from Stanford women’s gymnastics, in which the program will express its solidarity and commitment to taking action to create change. The team will also be choosing an organization for donations.
“[I am] really excited about doing that with the girls and really excited [that] they’re in support of this as well,” Bryant said. “It just gets the whole family aspect of everything kind of into place.”
While Levant and Wills were unaware of any specific plans of their teams to show support aside from posts on the programs’ respective social media pages in June, the duo knows ideas on showing support are being talked about.
Booker said the football team is considering hosting a social justice game, similar to the program’s sexual assault game, among other ideas, but the season’s coronavirus-related uncertainty has made it difficult to develop concrete plans. Nonetheless, the program aims to create tangible, positive effects through its support for social justice.
“We want it not to just be a symbolic thing but something that can actually link to like actionable items you know,” Booker said. “Because the patch on your jersey is great, you know it does build awareness, but you know awareness needs to be translated into dollars or even time now.”
Contact Max Zonana at maxzonana ‘at’ gmail.com.