During a summer of civil unrest across the country, some WVU student-athletes found their voices.
Many attended Black Lives Matter rallies in Morgantown throughout the summer, supported their teammates on social media and vowed to become better role models in the community. Now, athletes like redshirt senior wide receiver T.J. Simmons are focusing on what they can do to create change.
“Coach Brown proposed a question to us [Friday] and said, ‘what can I do to create change?’ One thing I wrote down was use my platform, use my voice to spread the word and educate people on things they might not know,” Simmons said.
These types of conversations are happening within programs throughout WVU Athletics, which has launched a new committee to help athletes create clearer goals for how they can effect positive change in the community.
The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, according to its chairwoman, was created to promote more conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion among athletes and coaches.
“After this summer, we thought it would be a great idea to put together a committee of student-athletes, coaches and staff to talk about what we could do as West Virginia Athletics, the premier institution in the state, to help progress our partnerships with the neighborhoods, our partnerships with campus and ultimately how we want to prepare our student-athletes and staff to go on to what’s next,” said Tangela Cheatham, the chair of the DEI committee and director of student-athlete enhancement at WVU.
Along with the WVU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, the DEI committee organized Sunday’s Mountaineers United Walk, which brought together hundreds of athletes, coaches and administrators as they marched for equality, inclusion and change.
That initiative likely won’t be the last from the new committee and other student-athlete activism groups. Cheatham said the SAAC is emphasizing civic engagement during this election year, and that the DEI committee will soon outline its goals for the new academic year.
“The ultimate goal of the committee is to come up with the things that we can actively do that are gonna make change, and the change that we want to see,” Cheatham said. “I’m excited to continue working and to actually get the work started, because action is what we’re passionate about, and education.”
Cheatham added that teams at WVU will likely participate in a new NCAA initiative that permits athletes to wear social justice patches on uniforms. WVU football has also released new team issue apparel that includes #BLM on the back.
Athletic director Shane Lyons also fully supports the work of the DEI committee.
“I care and this department cares about our student-athletes, coaches and staff, and we want their voice to help make us stronger,” Lyons said in a statement last month. “I already think we do a good job of listening and addressing concerns but expanding on those efforts will be a positive and make us even better.”