Calling Audibles Part XIX: The Sound of Silence
I’ll admit it, during the last several weeks I lost my stinger about speaking out about the problems of big-time football. I felt like “what’s the point.” I felt silenced by the situation—by our discernment of what we should do next, by the way UNC took John and me and the other coaches’ families out of the conversation, by the fact that I am female and there are those who feel that because of that I should be quiet about football. Truth is, I was enforcing my own silence on these topics.
On Wednesday I participated in the panel discussion at NCCU Law School on Student-Athlete Human Rights moderated by Dr. Emmett Gill, a leader in the movement to secure due process for college student-athletes.
At the panel we talked a lot about silence.
We talked about the disturbing silence from UNC officials about these injustices. As Justice Bob Orr said, “no one in leadership from UNC has stood up and said what happened was wrong.”
We talked about the imposed silence on the players and coaches during the investigation that allowed injustice and untruths to flourish. Former player Deunta Williams talked about how he was told not to talk to anyone and that he was told that he didn’t need a lawyer if he’d done nothing wrong. He talked about how he was never told about the seriousness of what was actually happening.
We talked about the silence imposed on the coaches and the outward threats to his job John received if he spoke out about what was happening. We talked about the secrecy and how no one really knew what was happening. By the time it was clear that power was being abused and rights were being violated, it was too late.
Attorney Noah Huffstetler, who represents Michael McAdoo, talked about the legally capricious procedures of the NCAA. He pointed out that the hyped up language we hear on commercials for the NCAA about how they are there to promote and support student-athletes is the absolute opposite of their practices. When investigations are underway support and advocacy for players is non-existent. Where there was feel good hyperbole about student-athletes, there is only silence.
We talked about the silence of the media on the true stories about so many of these players who did nothing wrong. Radio personality Bomani Jones shared his frustration about the easy caricatures that are portrayed in the news about NCAA investigations all around the country. Media outlets of all stripes remain silent on what really happened here at UNC.
We talked about the silence of white mentalities around the complexities and ambiguities of race in the UNC case. With nothing to go on, it was an easy step for many white people in power to take to believe that a football team of largely young black men was full of cheaters and criminals. Believing someone is guilty until proven innocent allows silence to take the truth captive. And some white people continue to look for ways to deny that race had anything to do with what happened at UNC. So far there is largely silence around the issue of race in this situation.
And we heard about the silence of the NCAA on the rights of players. In the 400+ page NCAA manual there is NOT ONE page that talks about players’ rights.
The sound of silence can be deafening.
The panel was a blessed breaking of so many layers of silence. As Deunta pointed out during the panel, “it feels good to hear others talk about this and get to tell my story.” Hearing that from him gave me a renewed sense of the gift of testimony—even when it is risky to say what you need to say, what you should say out loud. The sound of truth is powerful, liberating, healing.
At the same time, this call to testify is a challenge because being a truth teller doesn’t often win you lots of friends. Jesus showed us that pretty clearly time and time again.
At the end of the panel Dr. Gill asked us “so what can we do?” All of us talked about systemic change, about multi-layered approaches to reform that included the legal system, universities, media, and cultural awareness. And we all agreed to keep talking, to keep telling our stories, to keep telling the truth.
The audible here for me is that the sound of silence that I feel imposed from the outside cannot be what I allow to prevail inside myself. I will continue to speak out about student-athlete human rights even with the risks that doing so involves.
I am thankful that my voice is not the only one speaking out—but I am a part of a growing chorus of people who aren’t afraid to make the sound of silence loud enough to be heard.
10 thoughts on “Calling Audibles Part XIX: The Sound of Silence”
Thank you for continuing to work in this area; please don’t be silent! Can I forward your blog link to the president of my university (Michigan)?
Thank you for reading and for your comment. I appreciate your encouragement. Please do forward it far and wide. There are more and more people trying to get the word out. Universities should be taking the lead. Maybe pressure from alumni will help them take that step.
I may be in the minority, but as a Ohio country boy, the first time I bought gas in 1961 Mississippi, I was appalled that there could even exist a “black” and a “white” bathroom. I attended a small Ohio college and my first Chemistry lab partner in 1958 was a young black man, my age, and I never thought about this until I had my drive through MS. Our response should be, to the UNC Administration and the coaches, shame on you for not protecting the young men (and women) under your care.
Thank you for sharing some of your story and perspective, Jim. I echo your feelings of disappointment and even outrage about the University’s failure to be an advocate or even simply secure independent advocates for the players who are a part of this community, too. I hope we can all use this as a chance to learn and get better at being a community where equity, justice, and listening to the voices of those who are the most deeply affected are of the highest priority. Peace, Marcia
So powerful, Marcia. And so true about truth-telling. I’ll keep on if you do!
You’ve got a deal, Beverly!
Marcia, this is wonderful to hear–that dialogue is happening and stories are emerging. You can’t squelch the truth forever.
From a fan perspective, I’m appalled by the differing language certain commentators use about black and white players. Black players and their “athleticism” and white players’ “basketball IQ.” I’ve also see fan cults around certain white players–billed by the ignorant as the Great White Hopes of Basketball–that are fairly disturbing because they play into centuries-old racial caste systems. A lot of fandom around certain teams is laden with racial hatred, because in some minds, as with the Tea Party’s, it’s about “restoring the order” and “bringing back the right (white?) way.”
There’s a lot of subterfuge, there are plenty of lies, and there are many facades that once peeled away, we learn that the person we thought to be the devil is actually doing things by the book, and the guy we thought to be our best bud, the one we could have a beer with, is actually a fraud.
This is true of all institutions where humans get involved, and with all the pomp and circumstance and celebrity status of sports, we tend to get carried away by icons, mascots, colors, and allegiances. We have to hover on the edge of insanity and stay aware lest we get carried away into a kind of fascism that convinces us only Evil exists on the other side. So it’s not surprising that we color code the Good and Evil and bring race, the same type of fascist thought, right into the sports arena.
Lyn, thank you for these insights. The narratives of privilege have dominated the public conversation so far. And issues of race and privilege have been ignored, pushed aside in favor of buzz words like “integrity” and “honor.” I hope the tide is turning and more voices are being heard. I hope you will keep reading and commenting.
It may be difficult at times to keep on carrying the flag, but if you don’t, the truth will not emerge.
The NCAA and the universities should first and foremost be concerned about the well being of their student-athletes, and everything should flow from there. The primary concerns should not be money or reputation.
What in the world is going on with the UNC investigation? Cam Newton gets a ruling in 24 hours, Ohio State gets one quickly, and months go by with UNC. What really happened? Who made mistakes? How can everyone learn from this?
Thank you for your courage and strength and perseverance. You are making a difference.
Thank you, David, for your important comments and your excellent questions. What is going on with the UNC investigation? We’ve wondered that for going on two years. There has been so much secrecy. I wonder, too, why the local press is not more interested in the stories underneath the secrecy. They have gotten fixated on things like Butch Davis’ phone records instead of seeking the truth about how players were treated, how rights were denied/violated, and how innocent people have been profoundly harmed by these mistakes and missteps. I wonder why local media are not more interested in these layers of the story. In the meantime, John and I will keep speaking about these issues. I hope you will stay tuned for my post about the Taylor Branch panel last night.