On Aug. 26, in the middle of Temple University’s first week of classes, the sports world shut down to focus on systemic racism and police brutality.
First, the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their scheduled playoff game to bring attention to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. The rest of the NBA followed, as did the WNBA. Then came the MLB, and all of a sudden, the entire sports world was focused on racial injustice in the United States.
After the killing of Breonna Taylor by Kentucky police officers in March, the murder of George Floyd by Minnesota police officers in May and the nationwide protests that followed, social justice issues have been at the forefront of national sports, which has only increased since the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Wisconsin police officer in August.
“What has happened is so appalling, it makes your gut drop,” said Rod Carey, Temple football head coach. “It makes you want to do something about it.”
During every game this season, Temple football players will wear a “Black Lives Matter” sticker on the brim of their helmets and on a patch on their jersey, said graduate student linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley.
Graham-Mobley is the team’s representative for “Owls for Justice,” an organization made up of 150 student-athletes who attend public protests, broadcast public messaging about eradicating racial discrimination and express their ideas to combat it, he said.
“We made a commitment to be the change that we seek,” Owls for Justice wrote in a June action statement. “This is what we have been working on and will continue to work on to end social injustice, racism and discrimination.”
The team holds “injustice meetings” on Wednesdays or Fridays where they split into three groups and discuss social justice topics and current events.
On Sept. 30, the Owls met and discussed the first presidential debate, Graham-Mobley said.
“We kinda just communicate and listen and build different connections,” he added. “We think that is the best way to fight this battle of injustice and to continue inclusion within our entire team.”
The Owls took off from practice on Aug. 28 to talk about how Blake’s shooting was affecting them, Carey said.
That conversation led the team to ensure each player registered to vote in the upcoming general election, said graduate student cornerback Linwood Crump.
“Black lives really do matter,” he added. “It’s hard sometimes to go out there on the field and put that in the back of your head, because we are seeing people that are our color dying on the daily.”
For the players, no game or competition means more than the fight for racial equality, said redshirt-junior cornerback Christian Braswell.
“The most important thing I want everybody to know is that people feel outside of the football game,” Braswell said. “It’s a whole different world for young Black men and young Black women in this world.”
The team hopes they can drive change through discourse, whether it be internal discussion or the use of their platform as athletes to promote action, Graham-Mobley said.
“Just letting guys talk, as males in this society, we tend to not share our feelings a lot, so it was comforting,” he added. “I think a lot of guys really took it to heart. Once we’re in these gates, we’re all here for each other.”
Graham-Mobley believes the team got closer during the summer because of the talks they had about social justice, he said.
“We’re actually having conversations about where people are coming from, their backgrounds, why they believe in different things,” he added. “We’re actually getting to know each other on a personal level, and really understanding one another, so I think that we’re together more than ever.”