ISU Student-Athletes ready to hold administration accountable
Written by Maritza Navar-Lopez on September 2, 2020
Photo Courtesy ISU Redbird Twitter
NORMAL, Ill. – Illinois State University student-athletes are looking for accountability from the administration over recent actions by the Athletic Director.
Recently ISU Athletic Director Larry Lyons was quoted saying “All Redbird Lives Matter.” Immediately after, students and coaches spoke out against the statement on social media.
Some athletes said they were immediately angered and in disbelief of the statement. Track and Field athlete Jordan Wilkerson said the statement was disappointing and inconsistent.
“I felt betrayed, unrepresented, disrespected, just a lot of words could describe my feelings. Especially because they had already put together a Black Lives Matter movement on campus,” said Wilkerson. “We had already been talking about progressive movements and the things we could do amongst the students and administration to represent our black students and minorities on campus.”
The Athletic Department created a series called “Redbirds Uncut” to share experiences and stories of athletes in an effort to grow in the areas of diversity and inclusion. They also designed a poster featuring athletes of color to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
The statement was taken as a play on words from the Black Lives Matter Movement’s opposition “All Lives Matter” by several athletes and coaches.
Track and Field athlete Kimathi Johnson explained the statement fails to acknowledge that Black lives are under attack more than others.
“It’s obviously extremely similar to the movement that is a counter-movement ‘All Lives Matter’,” said Johnson. “And for me ‘All Lives Matter’ really just means that you are unable to acknowledge there are certain lives that are being attacked and being subjected to discrimination and discriminatory practices and racism. ”
Track and Field athlete Mya Robinson also noted the similarity of the statements and that she is tired of explaining the difference between movements.
“We are not speaking on all lives right now. First of all ‘redbird’ is not a life’ it’s not a race, it’s not an ethnicity, it’s not anything like that,” said Robinson. “But that’s just the equivalent to all lives matter. The fact that we have to constantly explain the differences between All Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter is tiring. “
They continued to explain how the “All Lives Matter” movement undermines the struggles and issues the Black community faces.
Shortly after, Lyons held a meeting with students to apologize for the statement. While some students may have accepted that apology, Robinson said nothing he says will change how she feels.
“When he made his apology, I didn’t go to the zoom meeting. I didn’t go because I didn’t want to listen to it,” said Robinson. “Anything he says is not going to change my thoughts on how I feel about him and that statement. I don’t really accept his apology at all and I don’t think anything he could say would get the trust back from us student-athletes.”
Days after the athletes spoke out, athletes shared a list of demands on Twitter boycotting the Athletic department.
Jordan Wilkerson explained the list of demands was something to build upon. He emphasized the list was to capture the administration’s attention while addressing the major topics they wanted to identify. Kimathi Johnson said this was the first step to stimulate conversation.
“We thought through like ‘What do we think we can get out of this early stage of this boycott’ and ‘How can we get people kind of on our side’? And trying to ask for things that can get us moving forward so we can have further in-depth conversations down the line,” said Johnson.
Within 24 hours the department released a plan for social change but some athletes think the plan came too soon. Robinson said the plan was not put well put together and was rushed to ease tensions.
Wilkerson also said the plan felt rushed but it was something Athletics was already working on.
“We definitely think in some respect there was some effort behind it but a lot of us felt it was rushed because it came out in less than 24 hours. Like I said we had been talking about these demands since June/July,” said Wilkerson. “It just shows the lack of interest and lack of care that they had for what we wanted to do because a lot of these things we had talked about already in our meeting with Larry Lyons and our coaches to relay to Lyons.”
The athletes explain the response by Athletics was too vague. Wilkerson specifically points out the plan to “review hiring practices with the goal of creating more diverse and equity-minded staff.”
“We asked to hire more people in a position of power and they said they are going to overview their hiring practices. That is not sufficient enough,” said Wilkerson. “You can overlook it and say you’re doing an adequate job to promote diversity in your hiring practices and not hire anyone else.”
Wilkerson says he wants the administration to establish a commitment to then, hold them accountable. He says the athletes are looking for another meeting with Lyons to finalize a real plan.
Kimathi Johson explains athletes want to change and edit the public plan to address more student-athlete needs. However, Johnson says the plan was lacking a set of rules and consequences for the administration.
“I think that’s what kind of made this whole thing spiral out of control for athletics. Larry was able to say what he said to us and all he had to do was apologize to keep his job,” said Johnson. “But if an athlete said something like that, there is a punishment system in place. But there doesn’t seem to be that for the administration.”
Student-athletes are planning a march this Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, outside the north entrance to Redbird Arena. Speakers begin at 6 p.m. and the march will follow. Masks and social distancing will be required. The march is not being labelled as a protest.