In the past year, athletes across all sports used their platform to bring up issues that matter to them. NFL players have kneeled for the national anthem in protest, NBA players have spoken out against racial profiling, and Olympic biathletes have championed gun control in just a few of the many examples of athletes using their voice to inspire change.
Vanderbilt’s women’s basketball team has discovered its voice this year as well.
Erin Whalen said, “I think a lot of us feel that we’re trying to use our sports as a platform.”
Throughout the season, the team wore black t-shirts during pregame warm ups with a cause or phrase that is meaningful to each player written in white.
Christa Reed chose “Break the Cycle” for her shirt.
Reed said, “I think it covers an overarching theme of human rights. With African American males, there’s the cycle of mass incarceration, and we want to break that cycle. For women, there’s this cycle of being underpaid or people just not seeing women for the power that they have, and we want to break that cycle.”
Whalen chose “Bravery” as her phrase because of the word’s meaning.
Players represented a wide range of causes. Bree Horrocks used the opportunity to represent the LGBTQ community.
Reed said of Horrocks, “She wears her shirt to represent them because they’re another group that’s marginalized in our society.”
The team hasn’t only worn the warm up shirts; they have also participated in other forms of activism.
Players are very active in community service. Reed mentioned that last week, she, Myka Dancy, and Kayleigh Clemons-Green volunteered at a Special Olympics basketball practice. Other players tutor children, help out at children’s centers, and serve meals to the homeless.
A few players also kneeled during the anthem before a preseason exhibition against Marian. Whalen and Reed mentioned that Coach Stephanie White made sure that the squad had constructive conversations about why they were kneeling before the players decided to do so.
Reed said, “she didn’t want us to just go out and [kneel] and not have had conversations about it and not really know why we’re doing it.”
White also held forums with players and the community to open a dialogue and give players a chance to explain why they were speaking up for certain causes. Explaining the “why” behind their voice is an important piece that is oftentimes overlooked, but has been helpful in gaining the support of the Vanderbilt community.
“The stigma is that athletes don’t know what’s going on,” said Reed. “They’re dumb. They shouldn’t have an opinion. And that’s not true.”
The team expects to continue to use its platform after the season ends and into next season as well.