North Carolina basketball's Leaky Black and Andrew Platek were among the first to show up Saturday, standing and waiting outside McDonald's, the latter in a "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt. Others soon began popping up: volleyball players here, fencers there, recognizable by their team-issued merchandise and brandishing signs with phrases like "Matter is the minimum" and "Black lives > white comfort." Before long, a crowd had formed on the north side of Franklin Street.
A half-hour later, more than 200 Tar Heel athletes and coaches had marched their way from Franklin Street to Rosemary Street to Morehead Planetarium, where a handful of players gave speeches about racial injustice to conclude a memorable and important day in UNC sports history.
"This system was built for people like us not to succeed," junior track and field athlete Madias Loper told the crowd. "We want an equal fight. We don't want any advantages, we want to be treated like human beings."
The event, part of the #MarchOnMyCampus2020 movement, was organized by UNC track and field's Nicole Barnes and Lauryn Hall and women's soccer's Rachel Jones. It came after the Aug. 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which left Blake paralyzed from the waist down and athletes and others across the nation seeking justice.
"What are we supposed to do when we follow all the rules and they still think we’re scary?" Jones asked. "What are we supposed to do when we’re face-down on the ground with a police officer’s leg in our necks and yet they’re still threatened by us? The system is broken.”
Every major pro sports league has in some way acknowledged the Blake incident. Most notably, the NBA postponed three days' worth of playoff games, a response to a string of boycotts started by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Jones, Barnes and Hall didn't formulate the plan for the march until Friday afternoon, giving just about a day's notice to athletes, coaches and the Chapel Hill Police Department. Barnes said she was "really, really surprised" by the considerable turnout.
"We were expecting our team, (the women's soccer team) and maybe a few football and basketball players," she told reporters. "But to see that every team was represented was amazing."
Among those marching: UNC basketball's Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Walker Kessler, R.J. Davis, Sterling Manley, Day'Ron Sharpe, Caleb Love, Anthony Harris and Ryan McAdoo, plus the aforementioned Platek and Black; basketball staffers Sean May, Brad Frederick and Kendall Marshall; and track and field and cross country head coach Chris Miltenberg.
Miltenberg told The Daily Tar Heel he heard about the march around 5 p.m. on Friday and set up a Zoom call with his athletes and coaches. His entire staff showed up the next day.
"In many ways, I'm not that surprised (by the turnout)," Miltenberg said. "This is really important, and especially among this group of people (UNC athletes), they know they've got to stick together."
Daniel McArthur, a white track and field athlete, told the crowd “This might be the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life."
"I’m tired of this sh-t," he said. "White people, stand up for your fellow Black people.”
The march was peaceful and adhered to pandemic protocol. Virtually everyone present wore a mask and made efforts to stay socially distanced.
"With the virus going around, that everyone came out here and put themselves in harm's way, potentially, for this cause just shows how important it is," Hall, one of the organizers, said.
UNC Athletics voiced its support for the march in a tweet: "We support our student-athletes peacefully protesting today in support of Black Lives Matter."
While not present at the march, head football coach Mack Brown spoke out against racial injustice in a four-minute long video that UNC football tweeted out Saturday afternoon. Head basketball coach Roy Williams said in a statement to the DTH that he was unable to join because of a previously scheduled family conflict, but that he was “very proud of our players and staff, and all the athletes, coaches and staff, who participated."
The march ended with organizers handing out voter registration forms and emphasizing the importance of turning out in November. It had the effect of being one final call to action — and a reminder that UNC athletes, like all athletes, can be much more than the sport they play.
“It’s to show the NCAA and everybody in the world that we’re not just entertainment,” Hall said. “We have a voice, and we’re going to show it no matter what.”
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