Though they'll be adversaries on the court on Feb. 6, the North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils men's basketball teams are on the same side in the more important fight against racial injustice.
Several members of North Carolina's men’s basketball team attended a UNC athlete-led protest last August organized primarily by Nicole Barnes and Lauryn Hall of the track and field team and Rachel Jones of the women’s soccer team.
Among those in attendance was first-year guard RJ Davis, who saw the event as an opportunity to march with his teammates to push against racial inequality and police brutality.
“We wanted to help support and voice our opinions and let these people know that we see what’s going on,” Davis said. “We’re going to let our voice be heard.”
Sophomore center Armando Bacot also attended the protest. He spoke about the significance of that day when recalling his thoughts of the event.
“It was a power gesture by UNC athletics as a whole,” Bacot said. “Just all of us coming together for one cause.”
Just a few days before the student-led protest in Chapel Hill occurred, the Duke men’s basketball team held a peaceful protest of its own. Though there were representatives from other sports, the event was primarily facilitated by the basketball team.
Both protests displayed a level of awareness and involvement from the people involved in the two schools’ most popular sport. The moment was not lost on Davis, as he said that the conference as a whole has been committed to the movement all season.
“We’re big on the word unite, that’s the word we’re going with,” Davis said when talking about the ACC’s mantra regarding racial justice this year.
With the subject of racial equality being especially relevant throughout the summer, Bacot revealed that there was briefly a plan to have both UNC and Duke basketball teams march together.
The plan ultimately did not work out due to timing.
“We stand in solidarity with them and what they were doing,” Bacot said.
Though the joint protest did not happen, the message was consistent with both schools. Davis and Bacot attended the protest at UNC with the intention of continuing to spread awareness for an issue that has impacted the country for hundreds of years.
Even in the months following the August protests, inconsistency is still seen in the country as evidenced by the violent demonstration on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6. Davis immediately noticed the difference in how the riot at the Capitol was handled in comparison to the protests against racial injustice in the summer of 2020.
“That was just mind-blowing,” Davis said. “If you put my skin color into their shoes, I’m pretty sure everyone would know the outcome. That right there says a lot.”
Similarly, Bacot noted that the reactions and consequences for the people at Capitol Hill were different than those at the protests before that moment.
“I just thought it was kind of ironic because a lot of those people who were doing what they did at the Capitol were the same people criticizing different movements and marches that people were doing,” Bacot said.
Bacot said the protest in August was not the first time he and many of the athletes around him thought about racism in America.
The conversation was already active, but the march on Aug. 29 allowed Bacot and his teammates to be involved in it.
“It was starting to spread more awareness,” Bacot said of the Black Lives Matter movement. “But I feel like it made us more conscious of the things we do and just being more respectful of everybody.”
As the basketball season continues, so will UNC and Duke’s mission to spread awareness about the reality of the country’s racial climate.
With both schools being on the same page, the two teams' respective fans have a chance to find common ground amidst this historic on-court rivalry.
“To see, basically our rivals, sticking up for the same reasons we are shows how much people really care,” Davis said. “There’s people that really see what’s going on. And we know it’s not right, so we try to do the best on our behalf to use our platform to the best of our abilities. And to see Duke do that, that says a lot.”