The summer of 2020 was a time of confusion, fear and nervousness about the future. As the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged through the United States and the rest of the world, a new day of social change was also on the horizon.
The day that many will remember as the start of the Black Lives Matter movement, was that of George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020. Bystanders watched as the police brutality that many had become acquainted with claimed another black man’s life. This event was the catalyst for a huge social movement that millions connected with.
Thousands of Americans took to the streets to protest Floyd’s death and brought attention to the many others who faced the same unjust fate. Others weren’t sure where to look. From conflicting news reports to social media and to their own personal relationships, the amount of information available was harrowing.
Certain athletes and administrators at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln athletic department were determined to be that trustworthy voice.
“I just know that when something is wrong or something bad goes on I’m not the kind of person to sit back and not say anything,” Nebraska senior pitcher Courtney Wallace said.
Wallace said she knew she had a special role as a Huskers athlete and wanted to use that role for good. The Omaha native knew she was a role model for softball players throughout the state. As she knew she had a large platform on Twitter, the pitcher released a statement.
“I attended a primarily white high school and play a predominately white sport and I have always been someone who felt like I couldn’t speak up or use my voice, because as a black women there are already looks and judgment. Enough is enough. I will not continue to sit back quietly for others comfort,” the statement said.
Wallace’s statement was met with support from Huskers fans and softball fans alike. But she knew she didn’t want to just make a statement, she wanted to create real change in the community and within the Nebraska athletic department.
At the time, Nebraska support through statements, press conferences and more. However, one of the more lasting changes has been shown through the dedication of student-athletes and the athletic department to the Student Athlete Advisory Committee.
SAAC is comprised of student-athletes from various sports and is in place to ensure all are represented fairly and equitably.
During the summer of 2020, athletic programs throughout the country were being pressured to make statements in support of or in disagreement with the movement. When asked about this time of pressure, the Executive Athletic Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Dr. Lawrence Chatters said most of the activism was performative, meaning that many were only participated to make themselves look better.
“The uniqueness of Nebraska first and foremost is that we have hired an executive level role here to really cultivate this entire experience to make us more diverse, equitable and inclusive.”
Dr. Chatters was at Midland University at the beginning of this movement. Midland University has the largest percentage of student-athletes in the state with 85% of the student body being student-athletes.
As media presence waned, there became less acceptance from others to continue the conversation about various marginalized communities. Dr. Chatters believes that as an issue is talked about less, the internal support of an organization must unify, rather than dissolve in order to ensure progress.
Nebraska’s athletic department is a competitively inclusive department according to Chatters. However, that does not mean external factors try to halt the process.
“I’m okay with people constantly sending me negative attacks my way because to me that says more about them than me. I know that I have work to do and I know that our society in America sometimes makes it seems as though if one group is lifted up means that another is brought down. But lifting up the marginalized helps everyone,” Chatters said.
The Black Lives Matter movement as a national social justice movement inspired many at the Nebraska athletic department to reflect and look inward. This reflection has paved way for real change in the athletic department and beyond.
As a competitively inclusive athletic department, the hope is that all people involved in and around Huskers sports feel that there is true work going into creating an experience that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.