There is a George Floyd-related protest set for Tuscaloosa on Sunday. There was a small one at Snow Hinton Park on Saturday, and others earlier in the week and there will be more in the future.
While the process of bringing University of Alabama athletes, particularly football players, back to campus is ongoing, chances are that there will be many of those players taking part in protests in solidarity with their fellow students. If they are black, they may choose to stand with other black citizens expressing concerns about incidents of police violence from across the nation. Some who are white may share those feelings and also participate. Every student, every citizen, should express his or her own point of view, although those players who have tested positive for the coronavirus should respect their quarantine and the safety of others first.
What is needed, what is imperative, is that any athlete — any human being — is free to act according to his conscience and mutual respect.
There is not going to be a “mandatory” photo opportunity for UA or a “team function” although if teammates choose to march together (and take precautions), that would be great, too.
I am not here to tell people what to do. My opinion is that these are serious issues and peaceful protest is a constitutional right. Beyond that, my moral authority applies only to myself.
I have lived in Alabama for 60 years. I did not spring to life as a full-blown warrior with a flaming sword of justice in one hand and a copy of “Invisible Man” in the other. I’ve made mistakes out of ignorance and done my best to learn from them and still make other mistakes, although hopefully fewer than I once did. I never stop trying to learn and think and grasp context, to read and listen to voices on all sides. When I was 16, I hadn’t read James Baldwin or Toni Morrison. Now, I’ve read them over and over. They teach, every time.
One of the great blessings and educations that I have had is getting the chance to interact with college-age men and women of all races and backgrounds and learn about their stories. That is the great reward of being a sports writer, especially in a diverse community. I’ve learned far more than I’ve taught.
People change. Times change. People need to be prepared for that, to anticipate the future rather than try to appease the angry ghosts of the past.
Several former Alabama athletes have marched in cities around the nation this week. That will continue. It will happen here. It won’t magically disappear.
If there is college football in the fall, there will be protests then as well. That may mean players kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It may take other forms. It will happen all over America. Rather than worry about preventing such expression or, worse, retaliating against it when (not “if”) it happens, University of Alabama officials should take the opportunity for introspection.
UA isn’t the same place it was in 1964, but it still has work to do in 2020. We have pursued stories about that this week, as a former gymnast has raised issues and allegations of racism. Stories can be complex, but the greater the transparency, the less the complexity.
Others situations are more simply solved, given the will. As an English graduate, I’d rather see the building where I studied named for Harper Lee than John T. Morgan. I would like to see Election Day be a mandatory NCAA off-day.
That isn’t a call for anarchy. “Decisions have consequences,” Nick Saban often says, and he is right. But he always accompanies that by saying that his role as a teacher is to improve that decision-making.
If the protests across the nation are about any one thing, they are about freedom. Not unlimited license, or lack of consequences, but about the freedom to make your own choices, without fear or oppression, and, most of all, to have those choices respected, the way adults should.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt