OGDEN — As Americans grapple with the issues of racism, police brutality, peaceful protests and rioting that have been shoved to the forefront of society after the death of Minnesota man George Floyd at the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin, athletic teams have found themselves at the intersection of sports and social issues.
On May 25, Floyd, a black man, was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. He was restrained while prostrated on the ground by two policeman, while a third prevented onlookers from intervening and a fourth, Chauvin, a white man, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Well-circulated video shows Floyd telling the officer “I can’t breathe” before he became unresponsive and died.
College sports rosters can be demographically more diverse than the student population of their related campuses. In the aftermath of Floyd’s death, people have looked to universities and coaches to express support of the Black Lives Matter movement on behalf of their players, and many former players have used social media to call for their coaches to speak.
Weber State’s population includes 1% of students who are “Black or African-American” and 3% that are “two or more races,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics, while of nine of 14 total players (64%) currently committed to play for Weber State men’s basketball next season, for example, could fit those demographics.
WSU head men’s basketball coach Randy Rahe tweeted for the first time in more than three years Tuesday, posting a blank, black image with the hashtag #BlackoutTuesday — a one-day movement encouraging people to support and amplify the voices of black Americans.
Rahe and athletic director Tim Crompton have issued the following statements in the last two days.
TIM CROMPTON: “I recognize that events that have unfolded across the nation have the power to either divide us or unite us. Responses are varied and intense. People are hurt, angry and afraid. As Weber State University’s athletic director, and on behalf of our coaches and staff, I find it of utmost importance to communicate our department’s firm stance that racism, in any form, is not tolerated.
“Here in Wildcat Athletics, we will continue to promote an environment where we can be united, celebrate our differences and stand together in support of one another. There is no room for hatred, there is no tolerance for bigotry, and there is not excuse for hurtful interactions — whether on social media or in person. We care about and take pride in each one of our athletes, coaches and staff members. Each one deserves to feel safe, respected, loved and valued.
“I believe that each one of us has a responsibility to peacefully affect positive social change. I encourage all individuals within our entire Wildcat Athletics community to use their opinions to do the greatest amount of good possible.”
RANDY RAHE: “Our hearts are broken during this time of unrest in our country. All life is precious and diversity should be valued and celebrated. As a staff and team, we recognize the opportunity and responsibility to make a positive impact in the lives of our student-athletes and the greater community we are proud to be a part of. We will use our platform at Weber State University for more important issues than basketball. We will live with integrity, compassion, hope, and loving-kindness for all humanity. We will move forward, together, as part of the solution.”
Protests in many cities across the country emerged as people decried Floyd’s death in what is seen as another fatality in a line of police brutality against unarmed people of color. Adjacent to those peaceful demonstrations has been a wave of rioting and looting, resulting in injuries and death to police officers and citizens.
Chauvin has been charged with murder and, on Wednesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced the three other officers involved in detaining Floyd will face charges of aiding and abetting murder.
Brad Mortensen, the WSU president, issued the following statement while the school simultaneously dealt with outcry regarding tweets from criminal justice professor Scott Senjo that celebrated violence against journalists and protestors. Senjo later resigned.
“At Weber State University, we stand with peaceful protesters in Ogden and across the globe and call for change: an end to racism, an end to oppression and intolerance, an end to violence,” Mortensen’s statement reads. “I call upon all members of our campus community to join me in pursuing a calm, respectful, yet urgent path.
“The tragic death of George Floyd ignited anger, outrage and fear. The resulting tensions, protests, and riots expedite our need to do more and be better about erasing the inequities in our society — not just in this moment but in all moments. That means working on ourselves and our communities.”
Mortensen detailed existing initiatives through which the school is addressing those inequities, including town hall events about race, a barbecue with law enforcement, and support of Ogden’s Diversity Commission.