U-M Student-Athlete Social Justice Design On Uniforms
October 22, 2020
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Led by a student-athlete initiative, the University of Michigan Athletic Department has developed two designs that reflect campus unity and diversity, to be worn on team uniforms, helmets and pregame warmups by all U-M varsity programs during the 2020-21 academic year.
The U-M football program will debut a decal on their helmets in Saturday's (Oct. 24) season-opening game at Minnesota. The Wolverines will wear a decal featuring the word "EQUALITY" with six raised fists, each depicting a skin tone to reflect the diversity represented in our community and express a campus commitment to unity.
"Athletes wearing this decal demonstrates our role in our community," said senior football student-athlete Kwity Paye, who is majoring in AfroAmerican and African Studies. "It is a chance for us to be able to contribute to increasing awareness about social injustice, and it's great for those watching to see our passion so they can be aware of it as well."
In late July, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved rules that permit athletic programs to feature patches or decals as part of their standard uniforms. Michigan's student-athletes led the initiative as part of the department's comprehensive offering of social justice and leadership programs. Teams will vote independently to wear either a similar "EQUALITY" or "BLM" mark on their uniforms/helmets.
Briana Nelson, a graduate student on the women's track and field team, majoring in public health, coordinated the peer initiative.
"I'm excited because this is an opportunity for us to step outside of sport and advocate while also competing," said Nelson. "It's something that will draw attention during big games and on television. Essentially, it's spreading the message, even to people who are just watching us for sport, that this is bigger than sports."
U-M student-athletes have approved the use of seven other slogans and themes that can be used on warmup apparel, depending on individual sport regulations:
WAR (Wolverine Against Racism)
Say Their Names
No Justice, No Peace
Numerous student-athletes have stepped forward in support of this initiative, showcasing the department's breadth of involvement.
Roland Amarteifio, men's track and field
"The thing I love the most about this initiative is that they sent this out to everyone -- not just student-athletes of color, not only specific people -- so that everyone was able to be a part of the process. Everyone got an email that encouraged them to vote and suggest their own ideas.
I think it's important for us to continue this message because the issues that we've been fighting for and started conversations about over the summer might not be in the news cycle as much as they were at the time."
Sammi Atterbury, women's soccer
"It is important that we get to wear these patches because they are a small way to bring attention to the racial injustices that are so prevalent in this country. I feel like we should take every opportunity we can to say 'enough is enough.' My hope is that when we put on our uniforms, it can serve as a reminder to people to keep speaking out and working toward change."
Naz Hillmon, women's basketball
"For me, being able to wear a social justice message while I compete means that we are taking a step in the right direction. We, as student-athletes, have the opportunity to speak out about what we believe in. It's an opportunity for those who have been silenced to be heard, and to have those voices be heard on such a large stage as the NCAA is something that many would have never imagined.
In order for change to come, a problem must first be addressed. I am proud to know that I am lending a helping hand in acknowledging the issues at hand."
Akienreh Johnson, women's basketball
"Being able to wear a social justice message while I compete means a lot to me because, as an African-American woman, I witness injustices every day firsthand. All my life, I was raised to be tough and to work twice as hard as the next person just because of the color of my skin. Being able to wear and represent social justice is very exciting because we get to use our platform as student-athletes to get a message across to others."
Emily Kiser, women's basketball
"Being a student-athlete at this level, I have a special platform in this community, and it is my responsibility to speak up when something is not right. Wearing social justice messages while we compete allows us to use our voice. It allows us to keep the conversation going and keep saying their names. It will show others that our priorities are not simply in getting back to playing basketball, but in using basketball as a catalyst for change."
Isaiah Livers, men's basketball
"Many don't understand how important it was for our team to be able to embody what we as a team believe is significant to us. I hope everyone takes the time as we are out there competing to take a look at all the players' patches."
Danielle Rauch, women's basketball
"Wearing a social justice message while we compete enables us to represent what we believe is right. We are able to stand up for all those who are denied the basic rights they so badly deserve. Every time people see us compete, they will see that message and be reminded of the changes that need to be made. It is time to be outspoken about the things that truly matter."
Mike Smith, men's basketball
"This is a step towards change! Although there is more to be done, this is a great opportunity for us athletes to represent what we believe in. This allows us to use our voice for change and stand up for the injustice that is taking place!"
Cameron Williams, women's basketball
"To be able to wear social justice messages while I compete means a lot to me because, as a Black woman in America, there is very little justice for people who look like me. Being able to wear messages while I compete will help shine a light on individuals and communities of people who face systemic oppression daily. These messages are ways to raise awareness to our demand for change, for our voices to be heard, and for us athletes to stand united against systemic oppression."