Before you read anything I say here, watch this video. In its entirety.
Say it with us ➡ Black Lives Matter. pic.twitter.com/JrEdvqjncx— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) July 6, 2020
For those who can’t watch, for one reason or another, I’ll even script it out for you:
Roy Williams: In 1966 our legendary head coach Dean Smith, my mentor, changed college basketball dramatically, particularly in the South, by signing Charlie Scott, the first African-American player to a scholarship at the University of North Carolina. Many of our greatest Tar Heels, some of the greatest to play our game, have been black players. But here we are more than 50 years later and our country is still fighting systemic racism and police brutality against black men and women. The North Carolina basketball program, our family, our current and former players believe Black lives matter. And it’s critically important we don’t just believe it, we must stand together and loudly and clearly demand that we as a country, and the world, embrace the fundamental human right that Black lives matter.
Wes Miller, Wayne Ellington, Tommy Kearns, George Lynch, Theo Pinson, James Worthy, Tyler Hansbrough, Luke Maye, Justin Jackson, Sean May, Jimmy Black, Marvin Williams, Eric Montross, Donald Williams, Danny Green, Sam Perkins, Jawad Williams, Ty Lawson, Kennedy Meeks, Lennie Rosenbluth, and Raymond Felton: We can’t be silent any longer. We have to change. Now is the time to listen, learn, and advocate for change. Eliminate police brutality. Stop killing unarmed black citizens. We can’t be silent anymore. Speak out about what is happening in our country. We all must be passionate - about racial reconciliation. Racism is never acceptable. We must demand that racism be eliminated now. Make sure you register - and vote. We can’t be silent any longer. My skin color is not a weapon. Diversity is the backbone of a great country. Listen with your heart. Justice for all is not a political issue - it’s a human right.
Michael Jordan: Systematic racism has to stop now. We must take the time to listen and educate our family, our friends, our children on social injustice and racial equality. Black lives matter more now than ever before. We have to get this right, so please take time to educate yourself and improve the lives of many people, many people - many Black people. Thank you.
In the weeks after George Floyd’s murder, Black Lives Matter as a slogan for anti-racism and racial equality has gained new life. It feels like more people get it now than did before, that after six years, it’s finally become clear to some folks that all lives cannot matter until Black lives matter. And it’s that renewal that led to people first, rightfully I think, thinking Roy Williams’ first statement on Floyd’s murder and its aftermath - with its lack of mention of racism, police, or Black lives - was a little lacking, then wondering what was taking so long for him to correct himself after Coach K realized he’d done the same thing and recorded himself saying that Black lives matter.
This video gives us a bit of an answer to that question, and it’s an answer so in line with Roy Williams and his definition of the UNC men’s basketball program it’s almost comical. According to this ABC11 report, it was vital to Coach Williams that the statement he made involve the whole UNC family in some way. The result is this: 22 former players, all prominent figures on national championship-winning teams from every NCAA-era period of UNC basketball, coming together to say alongside the team’s coach that Black Lives Matter. If you’re a UNC basketball fan, there’s a good chance you grew up idolizing at least one of the people in the video, regardless of your age, and hearing them be involved in this statement, I have to imagine, was something Roy thought was necessary. He’d never want to speak for decades of UNC basketball on his own, and including national champions is his way of making sure that those in the video are those who have brought us some of our happiest memories.
That underscores the key point here: These 23 people, all probably having different politics generally, were all able to say that Black Lives Matter, because the idea that a people’s lives matter should be unimpeachable. In Coach K’s video, he centered himself because it’s well known that he’s a lifelong Republican, so him repeating the slogan was a statement that his politics shouldn’t get in the way of being on the side of racial justice. In UNC’s, with Black and white players, with players from pre-integration all the way to players who graduated just last year, Black Lives Matter is a statement of unity. It’s a statement that we all, regardless of when we grew up or what we look like, should say, support, and learn about. It’s possible, even probable, that those 23 people would disagree, or at least have varying viewpoints, on issues like police abolition, reparations, the war on drugs, renaming buildings on college campuses, etc. But they all agree that their opinions on those issues should be founded in remembering that Black Lives Matter.
As far as what that means for us? First, listen. Rid yourself of any feelings the words “Black Lives Matter” might have instinctively awoken in you, and listen to people around you explaining what it means. Listen to the people in the video and to the Black athletes whose teams you support, Black people in your community, Black people across the country who are asking us to consider the many ways in which this country is still built to take advantage of them rather than serve them. Re-examine the history you’ve learned that erases violence against Black people and communities and reifies people who succeeded only because of their ability to treat Black people as property. Educate yourself on the legal and extralegal measures this country’s law enforcement and legal system take to criminalize Blackness, and make sure your friends and family do the same. Call your congresspeople and ask them to support, at the very least, police reform. Sign petitions. Make a donation, if not for the causes I linked than for other projects like the ACLU or this index donation for a multitude of Black causes. We are at a watershed moment for this country, and college sports are at the center of it. As I said back in May, however you go about it, it’s past time to realize that it is morally incoherent to call yourself a fan of majority-Black sports and live the rest of your life as if Black lives don’t matter to you. All lives cannot matter until Black ones do, so alongside UNC Basketball, I’m saying it one more time: Black Lives Matter.