Pushing for change: College athletes’ voices grow strong


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Their protests are not centered on a controversial war in some far off jungle but on issues of racial and social inequity at home. Their pulpit is not a segregated lunch counter, a music festival in upstate New York or Freedom Rides through the South but the seemingly boundless power of social media.

The voices of thousands of college athletes are being heard louder and clearer than they have in years and it is the most politically and socially active generation in a half-centure, since the turbulent years of the late 1960s and early ‘70s.

From seemingly small issues of inequality in NCAA Tournament weight rooms to life-and-death issues of police brutality and endemic racism, athletes are increasingly calling for change, intent on molding what the future should look like for everyone.

“Some of the things that have occurred this past year, it’s encouraged a lot of us to speak out on things, social justice, and how we feel,” said Loyola Chicago’s Lucas Williamson, who is working on a film project involving the school’s 1963 national title team that broke down racial barriers.

“The things we’ve seen, going back to last summer, it’s been emotional for me,” Williamson said, “and it’s given me the confidence to go out there and speak on some things I feel confident about, and some things that I feel are just causes.”

While the movement gained momentum last summer, when and died at the hands of police and protests hit America’s streets, the reality is that social unrest has been bubbling out of sight for years.

It took to bring it to the surface.

The NFL quarterback’s polarizing stance against social and racial injustice in 2016 was embraced by other pro athletes, and that in turn encouraged college athletes to take a stand. They joined the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and abuse, and began threatening to strike — to walk off the field of play — unless their demands were heard and met.

Protests by more than against on-campus racism led to he ouster of the president of the university system and the chancellor of its flagship campus. And despite pushback from legislators that threatened to strip funding for scholarships, they found support from athletes on campuses across the country.

The movement had gone mainstream. The momentum had become unstoppable.

According to Andrew M. Linder, a professor of sociology at Skidmore College, there are two main reasons for this athlete-fueled focus on change: First, younger people in general are more progressive on such issues as race, gender and injustice than previous cohorts at the same age, and second, they have been emboldened by their athletic heroes.

“Many of the current group of college players may have grown up being inspired by not just their on-court play but also their dedication to speaking out,” Linder said. “Consider a college freshman that was about 12…

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