Whether you’ve supported the Tar Heels at every game you could make it to or you only went to a tailgate that one time, there’s no denying that sports are integral to UNC's culture. A rich history of talented athletes, numerous awards and the phrase “Tar Heel” splayed on absolutely anything and everything (including this newspaper) communicate the extensive impact of athletics at UNC. Carolina athletes' and coaches' impact transcended sports again on Aug. 29 as they marched down Franklin Street in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Now, other members of the UNC community need to show up.
On Saturday, athletes from various UNC teams showed solidarity in protesting police brutality and the Aug. 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Sporting Tar Heel gear and Black Lives Matter shirts, this important facet of the student body united to share their perspectives and elevate awareness on campus.
Athlete protests like this aren’t just happening at Carolina. In their culturally significant positions, athletes across the country are using their platforms to share their lived experiences, bolster awareness and facilitate social change on racial inequality. Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball players, as well as athletes in the NBA and the WNBA, have all boycotted their games to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake.
These protests aren't a new phenomenon, either. Athletes have historically contributed to social and political discussion — for instance, when track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists to the Black Lives Matter Movement at the 1968 Olympics, or more recently, when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner in 2017. Much in the same way, UNC athletes made their support of Black Lives Matter and Jacob Blake tangible in their protest on Franklin.
There’s no denying that sports are fully ingrained into our psyche and sense of identity. When our favorite teams win a game, we are eager to claim the victory as our own. We use Tar Heel wins as an excuse to post on social media and levy superiority against Duke. But we cannot take those wins without acknowledging greater and more devastating losses. When athletes protest against the systemic racism present at UNC and throughout the country, our attention cannot fade.
It is unacceptable to cheer for athletes at games, yet turn a blind eye to the discrimination that many of them face on a daily basis. In this time of social unrest and political turmoil, to exclude oneself from the conversation is to take the side of the oppressor — the side that oppresses the Tar Heels we know and love. We cannot watch members of our community fight on the court or the field without fighting for them ourselves when it really matters. It’s time we all show up.