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Undermining a Movement and Exploiting Athleticism

Written by on September 2, 2020

Photo courtesy to ISU 

NORMAL, Ill.- Local BLM leader and Public Relations Officer for the Democratic Socialists of America share how community leaders, like Illinois State’s Athletic Director, influence the BLM movement and how exploitation should not be at the focus of Black Redbirds, but rather honoring black experiences.

Athletic Director Larry Lyons is quoted saying, “All Redbird Lives Matter.”

“It’s something that we also see in the community sometimes,” said BLM BLONO Leader Olivia Butts. “We hear that ‘All Lives Matter’ as a direct response to ‘Black Lives Matter.'”

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. Athletes and coaches took to social media, similarly in October of 2019, students created the ‘#AntiBlackISU’ hashtag.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of things happen at ISU, a lot of that started with the anti-black ISU, which was like a hashtag and a movement after some things happened with Black homecoming last fall,” said Butts. “And so I think students are willing and ready to organize, to  tell people in administration, whether it’s athletics, but at the university as a whole, that their voices do matter”

Butts says that the experiences that Black Redbirds have on campus, in their classrooms and with their classmates are important.

“When they hear things like ‘All Lives Matter,’ and whether that comes from someone administration, whether that comes from their professor, whether that comes from the athletic director that really undermines their experiences,” said Butts. “It undermines a movement that many of them have been involved with, whether it’s on campus or back home.”

Being that Butts also works at ISU, she has tried to involve students on campus in volunteerism and voter engagement.

Volunteerism runs deep and never leaves an individual, which is why ISU graduates have been involved in posting things on social media.

Photo courtesy to Davontae Harris Twitter

Butts says students have been a disappointed with the response from the administration and, and a lot of students have become more active on campus because of it.

Student athletes this week, published demands. “I think that’s awesome,” said Butts. “Student athletes, in this specific case, have realized that they are leaders right on campus and in the community. Their leadership on this issue will trickle into other areas of campus.”

As a representative from the BLM chapter in this community Butts is excited to see those student-athletes standing up for what they believe in and making sure that their voices are heard because they’re an important part of the campus community and they are community leaders.

Lyons has been with Illinois State athletics for 30 years and is a respected community leader as well, but PR officer for BLONO Democratic Socialists of America Louis Goseland said that is all the more reason the community should be holding him accountable to using his platform as a community leader to truly embrace what sentiment he has put forward and has abused.

“He has missed the opportunity to use his position to truly prove that ‘All Redbirds Lives Matter’, by not respecting that the experience of black Redbirds and black people in this community are different than those of white members of the community.,” said Goseland. “Unfortunately black athletes are facing the consequences and now have counteract his choice, to whitewash struggles that they have by blanketing it under this statement, ‘All Redbird Lives Matter.'”

In order for that statement to be true Goseland says Lyons has to to hear the black athletes, their demands, and quit merely exploiting their athleticism for his gain and the gain of the university by pulling the revenues that they do.

“These teams generate profit in a career for him, and he should actually honor the people who are doing that labor,” said Goseland. “He would not be in the position that he’s in, as a respected community leader, without the athletes that are the foundation of his career.”

As of 2018, Lyons’ annual salary was $219,526. This salary is 294% higher than average and 347 % higher than median salary in Illinois State University.

Goseland says if Lyons truly wants to prove that ‘All Redbird Lives Matter’, then start with the Redbirds who are speaking up and saying, ‘this is what we need’ and use his position of respect within the community. “Not only to carry their call for justice within his purview as the athletic director, but use his community status to make sure that other community leaders are listening as well.” said Goseland.

So he’s wasted an opportunity and taking this step that he’s made.

However, Goseland believes Lyons now has the opportunity and the invitation with these demands to get things right, and to finally show the respect to the athletes.

Whether it is strength and conditioning section, athletic training or in the classroom. Butts says we know that black students have different experiences than their white counterparts here at ISU.

“It’s been said for a long time,” said Butts. “It is exciting to see such a group of leaders step up.

Butts also says the athletics department has already responded with some, some solid action steps, which she believes is good first step, but just making sure that is a continued conversation and connection happens between black athletes and administration.

Last night, Sept. 1 there was a ZOOM forum that was only open to student-athletes, which was in cooperation with Interim Assistant to the President for Diversity and Inclusion Doris Houston. The forum gave student-athletes the chance to speak about their experiences with equity, social justice and inclusion within athletics and across our campus.

Photo courtesy ISU Athletics

Butts says ISU offers resources and the new action plan seems to be utilizing those resources.

Within the plan it states Athletics is committed to hiring a therapist with specific skills, providing counseling and mental health services to student athletes of color by this fall, which Butts appreciated.

“Steps that actually have deadlines are really great. The fact that athletics listed out who will train them and when those things will happen, that is really important when you look at demands,” said Butts.

In forming a student-athlete action team for social change, Butts hopes that will help spark some of those conversations.

“It’s getting to a point where athletes are so fed up that they’re ready to boycott and skip practices,” said Butts. “Creating a group like that is important.”

BLM BLONO Chapter supports students and student-athletes and their willingness to speak out and protest.

“We’d definitely be on board and could help them organize and bring in the community outside of just the campus community,” said Butts.

Photo courtesy to George Floyd’s Facebook

The chapter has received so much support this summer. “After the murder of George Floyd specifically, we saw so many people come out to our events, which has been really great,” said Butts “We would like to keep that momentum moving and support the black athletes at ISU.”

Goseland believes the department’s already willingness to make a change is evidence that like power concedes nothing without a demand. A way student athletes plan to concede power is by hosting a march this Friday, Sept. 4, 2020 right outside the north entrance to Redbird Arena.

Photo courtesy to BLM BLONO Facebook

“The protest in the streets, the civil disobedience that’s been happening across the country is yielding some measure of changes and reforms, but those changes in reforms have been called for for decades,” said Goseland. “It’s always been the power structures option to honor people’s experiences and make the changes that people have been calling for.”

Goseland hopes what people are learning that the polite, calm little town that the residents live in has been a home, not only to good experiences that are had on and off campus, but are also home to injustices that have yet to be addressed.

“What is happening both with these athletes and to community at large is commendable and historic, and that demands are being made and victories are being won,” said Goseland. “For every little bit of change that’s made, there are a generations of problems to fix.”

Goseland says this is really a great time for our community to be pushing forward. “We shouldn’t slow down,” said Goseland.