The Georgia Southern football team had to halt football practice last week due to some positive COVID-19 tests. They were cleared to return to action Friday, but decided to sit out practice to take a stand against racial injustice instead.
Players like Rashad Byrd were ready to start practice, and then began to hear that many of their teammates had other thoughts after the recent shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha Wisconsin.
“I came out to practice, and then I started hearing from my teammates that we don’t want to practice today,” Byrd said. “As a leader of the team I’m going to hear you out. It seemed like after listening a lot of others felt like taking some kind of stand against the social injustice, and sitting out may be a good way of supporting our black community.”
Byrd said the majority of the team felt it was best to not practice, and so it was then time to call in Coach Lunsford. Quarterback Shai Werts took the lead in the meeting with Lunsford.
“Once we decided that we were not going to practice, I wanted to go to Coach Lunsford,” said Werts. “I felt like we needed to tell him why we were doing it, and all the reasons and not just say we weren’t going to practice.”
“Me and (Rashad) Byrd and a couple others pulled coach to the side,” said Werts. “We told him our reasons and said I hope you’re rockin with it, and he was.”
“We have a lot of guys who are hurting from what is going on in our country,” said Lunsford. “These things have been going on for quite a while, but have really come to light lately because of social media. We’ve got guys, and we’ve got coaches that have examples of feeling pain like this throughout their lives.”
“Seeing how people were using their platforms last week to bring awareness to what is going on, some of the leaders on the team came to talk to me,” said Lunsford. “They told me how the team was feeling, and what they wanted to do as a team. We had a team meeting and talked through some stuff, and even though some still wanted to practice we decided as a team not to practice.”
Byrd and Werts are grateful for having an understanding coach like Lunsford, who will listen to the thoughts and feelings of his players.
“You can go to him with any problems you have,” Byrd said. “He definitely gets respect from us because he cares about us in that way. Going out there and seeing that he’s alright with us not practicing because of our reason gives us a lot of respect for him.”
Werts was involved in an altercation with law enforcement prior to last year’s season open, and says there are many people on the team that have experienced similar forms of racism.
“A lot of time people think it is only happening when you see it on social media,” said Werts. “The truth is there are plenty of times when it happens and it hasn’t been caught on camera, and it hasn’t gone viral.”
To quote the movie Spiderman, Werts feels with great power comes great responsibility.
“People know us from being able to make plays on the field,” Werts said. “Why not use that platform for good, for something that is bigger than ourselves. The statement we wanted to make is black lives matter, and we stand for this.”
“We don’t care who gets mad,” said Werts. “There are going to be some that are behind the movement and some that are not. It’s not a black versus white thing, it’s basic human rights. People who look like me want to be able to go out in the world and have the same privileges of people who look like you.”
Werts also said the Eagles have other plans ahead to use their platform to take a stand. Thursday the Eagles are planning a march on campus, and have encouraged anyone on campus to attend. The time and starting point is yet to be determined, but Coach Lunsford says he is hoping it will be after practice, and wants to be a part of it.
“We have talked about doing it on Thursday after practice,” said Lunsford. “It’s important to me that things like this are player driven and they plan it. I want to be a part of it. I have asked them if I can be a part of it, but I want them to organize it so it’s not the head ball coach forcing it on our guys.”
“They did tell me after Friday that there will not be any more protests that will affect football,” Lunsofrd said. “I don’t see a protest affecting a football practice in the future, but we will make sure the march happens.”