As part of the NCAA’s push to highlight students promoting social change, the University Athletic Association is giving Gators student-athletes a platform to address such issues.
Florida’s “Listen, Learn & Act” initiative, created by UF executive associate athletic director Lynda Tealer, will feature multiple Gators teams, staff and UAA employees engaging in conversations regarding racism and social injustice.
The initiative currently features double-digit UAA staff members, with plans to add more in the future. Tealer envisions multiple panels of discussions, likely to feature a mix of UF coaches and student-athletes across various sports.
“This is a chance for us to hear what they have to say, learn from them and understand their experiences, with the hope that out of this current moment, it can change all of us,” Tealer said. “Not just individually, but as an organization, as a community, as a country.”
The debut session, held June 16, prominently featured Florida’s men’s basketball team and coaching staff, in addition to more than 170 UAA staff members listening in on the call. The nearly hour-long conversation, which was made available online shortly after the webinar, delved into sensitive yet pertinent matters such as the Black Lives Matter movement, institutional racism, microaggressions and more.
The conversation was passionate and with many UF athletes recounting their personal experiences with a variety of issues pertaining to social injustice and racial prejudice.
Anthony Duruji, a 6-foot-7 power forward who transferred to the program from Louisiana Tech prior to last season, recalled being stopped by the police on his way home from basketball practice. After giving the officer his last name, Duruji was asked if he had any marijuana on him. He was only 12 at the time.
“I’m a tall black male. I have tattoos and dreadlocks,” he said. “So, I’m definitely aware of how people perceive me.”
He’s far from the only one who has dealt with prejudice or microaggressions because of his appearance.
Fellow transfer Tyree Appleby shared an incident with law enforcement where he and three friends were pulled over for failing to use a turn signal. The officer used a loudspeaker to order Appleby, the driver, out of the car, and then proceeded to handcuff him in the backseat of the cruiser while police checked his car. After claiming to smell marijuana, Appleby’s vehicle was searched; no marijuana was found after nearly 30 minutes, and Appleby was let go with a citation for his lack of a traffic signal – a minor transgression that seemingly escalated due to his skin color as recent history has shown, he said.
“It was a scary moment,” said Appleby, “but also kind of usual with things that are going on nowadays.”
Ultimately, the conversation turned toward the future and how athletes can help lead the charge. For sophomore Scottie Lewis, he’s already turning his words into actions.
Lewis has been prominent when it comes to organizing marches back in New Jersey, where he moved from Georgia early in his high school career. His political aspirations are well known and documented; Kentucky and coach John Calipari apparently squandered any shot of landing Lewis when they advised him not to use his platform for political reasons if he were to join the program, per sources close to Lewis’ recruitment.
“I can speak for all athletes: we have a moral obligation to use our voice and platform. Not just for the enrichment and quality of future generations, but to provide a voice for those who might feel silenced,” said Lewis. “If you’re someone who’s just starting right now to pay attention to racial injustice, then you’re part of the problem.”
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