They made the Promise to themselves and their teammates and last week the South Alabama women’s basketball team invited everyone else to join them.
As the events at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., unfolded on Wednesday, the Jaguars’ team was focused on the events taking place and they, like most Americans, had questions as well as the need to voice their opinions.
Even before Wednesday, members of the team and its coaching staff have had a sounding board — each other. Last weekend, prior to the team sweeping two Sun Belt Conference home games against Coastal Carolina at the Mitchell Center Friday and Saturday, the team took its Promise public and invited others to join.
On the team’s Twitter feed (@SouthAlabamaWBB), the Jags posted a video of each of their players reciting a portion of the Promise, with the phrase “Jags4Justice” used as a backdrop. Also on the Twitter page was the Promise in its entirety.
“We are a united team — from various backgrounds — that will actively speak out against racism, injustice, hate and discrimination. We will fight for the voices of ourselves, our teammates, our friends, our families, our communities and our world. We promise to search our own hearts and minds to create awareness of the people around us and the lives we impact now and forever. We will grieve and ultimately heal with you — we will not be silent. We will not let their names be forgotten — we are South.
“Connect. Serve. Love.
“Black Lives Matter.
“Will you join us in our Promise?”
Head coach Terry Fowler said the statement by the team was a byproduct of many discussions held by team members and coaches over an extended period. It was conceived and prepared before Wednesday’s riots, with some work left to complete before it was presented publicly. After Wednesday’s events unfolded, the timing seemed right to complete the work and get the message — the Promise — out there.
“It was something done earlier and something we talked about and we were going to get it out,” Fowler said following Saturday’s game. “It wasn’t finished, but it was done. And once we got it finished all of this happened, so we said, OK, it’s the perfect time.
“[The team conversations began] back in the summer when George Floyd and everything happened, and at that time we were doing Zoom calls. We just started talking about what are the things we can do? What’s our bridge? I’ve lived through several of these — Rodney King and whatever — so I’ve been through several of them. [My] generation has really failed and I really tried to reach the players by saying, ‘You guys can make a change. The protests we’re in now look different from mine. There’s different ethnicities, everybody is a part of this.’’’
What started as discussions during Zoom meetings when COVID-19 restrictions prevented teams from gathering together for practices or meetings grew more intense and more open once the players and coaching staff could get together.
“Where are we going to be at in April? Everybody’s going to show back up on the anniversary [of Floyd’s death],” Fowler said he asked his players. “Are we going to have a continuous theme? We talk about it all the time. We’ve had kids go through some things, I’ve gone through some things, and we just have some really good conversations.
“I think it has evolved and this is a time where you have those real-life conversations. We always talk that basketball teaches you about life, you know, you can’t be lazy, those types of things. But now we have to have conversations to try and prepare our kids for when they are finished here. My thing with our group has really been about, as women — women are really doing a lot of things right now. Our team is predominantly Black and I tell them as Black women you have a great opportunity to change the world. You guys, it may not happen right now, but if you have families and things, you want to make sure your family and your kids are in a better place, and you can’t stand on the sidelines. You have to be active in things.
“We’ve been able to have some really good conversations — the coaching staff is in, the players are in. The conversations we’ve been having before practice, I didn’t think we were going to practice. We just shared and were open and honest about how we felt and slowly but surely things started to come out. If we had decided not to practice, what’s wrong with that? I would have been fine with that.”
Another aspect of the open discussions and sharing is a result of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force established by the university’s athletics department in which athletes, coaches and others can discuss issues involving a variety of subjects with an objective to promote diversity and inclusion awareness and education, voter registration and civic duty, promotion of social justice, equality and campus and student rights, as well as activism.
Fowler is co-chairman of the task force along with senior associate athletic director Jinni Frisbey.
“For me, being one of the co-chairs, it’s been good; I feel like I have a responsibility and our first three or four meetings were powerful,” Fowler said. “I was like, we’ve got a chance to really do some things here because people were open and shared. A lot of times, people were saying, ‘Well, I didn’t know that.’ We shared videos with members, some of the White members on the task force, and [suggested some] look at this video or take a look at this documentary.
“It was about bringing awareness and education and understanding that there are differences in how you see things and how I see things. So, I think the task force has been a part of it. It is for the student-athletes. It’s not something the adults are trying to gain from it, but it’s for [the student-athletes] and how they can make things better.”
The reaction to the Promise video and statement has been positive, Fowler said.
“From a social media standpoint, it has gotten a lot of attraction from a lot of people. And that has been our thing — can we get people to join us? If you’re a Jag fan, hey you need to be part of this movement and this awareness as well. Join us. The social media attraction has been really good. That’s what we talked about. When we can make our Promise and make people aware of it, that’s when we can have something. It’s a way for us to make people aware of it and for us to have some traction in this thing.”
The positive reaction was not surprising, Fowler said.
“If you follow our program, there’s a lot of different things that we do,” he said. “There have been a lot of little things, like sending out little videos to our fans. It’s been different because people kind of gravitate to our kids and one of the things we tried to show is that if you know our kids and you know our heart, we’re fine.”
Regardless of how the message is received, Fowler said he, his players, his coaches and other members of the program will continue to strive to follow the message of the Promise. In fact, he said the non-basketball discussions have played a big role in bringing this season’s team closer together, both on the court and off.
“The best thing we talk about is we are trying to create an environment that people want to come into and people want to stay,” Fowler said. “From there, the inclusion part [comes into play] that we’re going to talk about whatever and everybody on the team has a voice. The thing about it is, they are not afraid to talk and share, and that’s been really good for us, to have these moments that we’re having.”
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