HUNTINGTON — At 8:46 p.m. Wednesday, Marshall University’s football players took part in a team exercise that had nothing to do with voluntary workouts.
The team exercised its right to protest injustice within today’s society.
Marshall’s football players spread out across the field under the lights of Joan C. Edwards Stadium and took a knee for 8 minutes, 46 seconds to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, the family of George Floyd and victims of injustice.
“Our players wanted to pay tribute to the memory of George Floyd and they decided to come out here and do a kneeling (Wednesday), and we’re so proud of our players for wanting to express themselves in this way,” Marshall president Jerome Gilbert said. “It certainly reflects the sentiment of many people at Marshall. A lot of us wanted to be here to witness and support them. It’s a great thing that they are doing.”
Gilbert was joined at the event by Maurice Cooley, Marshall’s vice president for student affairs and associate vice president of intercultural affairs, who had been in contact with Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick, associate athletic director Jeff O’Malley and Marshall head football coach Doc Holliday.
“We discovered that the Marshall football players had already expressed this as one of their forms — one of the things they wanted to do,” Cooley said. “We could see that in a discussion that the coaches had agreed. I think they finalized the date (Monday), but even some days before that, I know that in my communication … that they were soundly supportive.”
College sports helps promote unity within society as players of all backgrounds come together to form a team with one goal in mind: winning.
As such, college athletes are considered the face of their respective campuses, which makes them the leaders in change for the next generation.
On May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis after Chauvin held a knee to the back of Floyd’s neck during an arrest.
It was later determined that Chauvin’s knee was on the back of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, and an independent autopsy report done at the request of Floyd’s family determined Floyd died of “asphyxiation from sustained pressure.”
The original autopsy performed by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner also ruled the death a homicide, but noted that the cause of death was “cardiopulmonary arrest (heart failure) complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.”
Following Floyd’s death, protests against police brutality and racism started nationwide and then expanded worldwide in an effort to bring attention to the injustices against black people within society.
For college athletes, the past three months have already been an uncertain time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which halted sports March 11.
It has been two weeks since sports have started to resurface under strict safety guidelines, which included players quarantining and getting a COVID-19 test prior to starting workouts.
The strict guidelines created a difficult situation for student-athletes who wanted to join in the protest in response to the killing of Floyd and other social injustice.
However, an idea born from Jen Price, the wife of defensive line coach J.C. Price, was pitched to strength and conditioning coach Luke Day, who then took it to the players for their approval.
The plan involved the players all taking the field at Joan C. Edwards Stadium and kneeling for 8 minutes, 46 seconds in remembrance of what happened to Floyd.
On the field, players were separated by 10 yards to their front and sides to maintain social distancing. Day said it formed a grid-like pattern on the field.
While on the field, players wore their personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure safety throughout the demonstration.
For Day, it was the perfect way for players to make their voice heard, while not jeopardizing their ability to take part in voluntary workouts.
“It’s not like everybody else where if you wanted to demonstrate and you wanted to protest and you wanted to be around other people, you could do so and it would not jeopardize things at work the next day from a safety protocol,” Day said. “With student-athletes and the staff, we had to figure out a way and be creative to where this is still not going to put anybody to where we had to quarantine some more away from the rest of the team and miss out on training.”
Day said the important thing is that Wednesday’s demonstration was the first of many ways Marshall’s program will keep the movement woven into its daily framework during the 2020 season.
“The important thing to us is that we’re not just doing one thing and checking the box off, showing that we are socially aware, but never talking about this stuff again,” Day said. “That’s not how change happens. From a kickoff standpoint of how Marshall football is going to be part of this movement throughout the entire 2020 season, this is how they wanted to express themselves.
“It was very powerful, and it was cool to be a part of it and see the kids as passionate as they were. It was staff-facilitated, but it was player-led. There’s a lot of stuff that these guys have planned to do. This was just the beginning of it.”