August 30, 2020
Dear Athletic Director Barnhart, Coach Calipari, Coach Stoops, and Coach Mitchell:
The Faculty and Staff in the African American and Africana Studies (AAAS) Program at the University of Kentucky invite you to begin a dialogue with our greater UK community on sports and social justice. The recent confrontations between the police and Black communities, including the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmad Arbery, has moved many professional athletes to comment on the impact of police brutality on their lives. Our empathy recognizes and acknowledges the statements of anguish shared by Chris Paul, Doc Rivers, and Chris Webber. Student-athletes at UK also want and need to talk about these events. The AAAS Program at UK has long served as a moral center on campus, and it is staffed with experts on race, sports, and political speech in Kentucky. We are ready to join students as they craft their own statements in the language of reform.
In the AAAS Program, we recognize that our students carry dual responsibilities as scholars and athletes. We also stand with our students, as they put their academic and athletic careers on the line to make “good trouble, necessary trouble” as the late John Lewis urged. Student-athletes often stand at the forefront of societal change, calling for open dialogue on racial injustice and police brutality. As you know, the UK football team decided to cancel its practice after the shooting of Jacob Blake, in protest of the violent policing in black communities. The football team at the University of Mississippi did the same just a few days later.
An open dialogue about race and sports also benefits the communities of Lexington, Louisville, and indeed, all of Kentucky. This opportunity for community engagement presents an opening for UK to move beyond its insular past. The time is now for UK to demonstrate how it can and should reach out to black communities that have worked for it, donated to it, and stood with it in times good and bad. In essence, the call for a meaningful discussion is coming from inside the building. But unlike a Hollywood horror movie, this call comes from our students and our community members.
Please join us for an open and honest conversation about how race, sports, and police reform affect our students. The AAAS program supports four experts on race and sports in Kentucky, who have been featured on ESPN, the Sporting News, the Lexington Herald-Leader, and the Canadian Broadcast Company. As a faculty, we are eager to open our hearts, our offices, our books, and our minds to the students you train so well to become stellar athletes.
Finally, we respect your work, dedication, and commitment. We all love our students. And while we understand that AAAS faculty are not often asked to contribute to discussion regarding athletic administration, we know that now is the time for our departments to tap into our respective resources. We want to empower our students to use their voices and speak their truths.
Yours in solidarity,
The Faculty and Staff of African American and Africana Studies
University of Kentucky