The University of Kentucky football team walked out of Thursday’s practice to protest racial injustice and police brutality.
“We decided to use this time that we’ve been given today to address something that’s more important than football,” defensive lineman Josh Paschal said Thursday evening. “As a power five football team, we come from all different backgrounds, but come together to turn awareness into action. In light of recent events involving police brutality, our team stands together in unity, knowing there’s a problem in this country.”
The team had complete support from Mark Stoops, who unknowingly walked in on the players-only meeting. Kentucky’s head coach sat down and listened to the open dialogue before ultimately supporting whatever conclusion his players reached.
“Playing for Coach Stoops means that we have a players’ coach. We have a coach that empathizes and hurts with us, while having our best interest at heart. The administration of the university has been great, with listening and offering any help that they can. Coach Stoops has made it known that he is for us and it gets the issue by protesting and giving us this opportunity,” said Paschal.
“Our team has been a prime example of how our community should be. We may have different beliefs or values, but we work together to fight for one goal. We’ve never had a problem with this team splitting up with this issue because we are a brotherhood and we are more than athletes, because on this team we are treated as such. This is how we want others to see us as well. ”
Offensive guard Luke Fortner showed up to the facility expecting to practice. Once he saw how visibly shaken some of his teammates were by what they’ve seen across the country, he was prepared to take action.
“This isn’t just an issue for our Black teammates. It’s an issue that involves all of our players and should involve all of our fans and community,” said Fortner.
“We realize that as athletes we have a platform and we have decided as a team that we will use this platform for positive change. What does this mean? It means that we’re not just going to Tweet a hashtag. We plan on continuing our volunteer service, but with an emphasis on youth minorities in the community. We plan on opening dialogue with the Lexington police and inviting an open conversation. We plan on making this a consistent effort, not just something that dies down in just a week.”
The large Kentucky football unity council — Paschal, Fortner, Cedrick Dort, Boogie Watson, Landon Young, Josh Ali, Drake Jackson, Zach Johnson and Max Duffy are just a few of the vocal members — was prepared to take action with a tangible goal in hand. They left the meeting with a purpose, to educate Lexington’s youth. Their primary volunteering focus will be to create dialogue with local youth groups and the police.
“Without action, nothing happens. It’s just merely a thought. With everything that’s been going on, there’s been a lot of talking on social media, things of that sort, but there hasn’t really been that much action. Action is going to be the thing that takes us to the next level,” said Paschal.
“What we did today, it’s going to be talked about around Kentucky. Some people may not agree with it, but I know that people will hear me out and people will listen to this press conference and they may see things differently. Even if everyone doesn’t change their hearts who may disagree with me, even if we can influence a couple of people, that could be a domino effect where they can change their community and they can change how they treat their kids, how they raise their kids so that they will treat others with respect while they’re growing up.”
This will be the only practice the Kentucky football team misses. Fortner believes one practice is worth missing to support his brothers.
“In 20 years, is it going to matter if we practiced on this Thursday? Probably not. Right now we have an opportunity to do something with that platform,” Fortner said.
Fortner and Paschal are just two of the more than 100 Kentucky football players who are using their platform to stand united against hate.
“We’re speaking for every single one of our teammates,” said Paschal. “We’re speaking for our teammates who may not feel loved in this country, who aren’t mentally right right now just because of the things going on — seeing people who look like us being harmed just solely because of the color of our skin and people fearing us just because of the color of our skin. There’s a lot of stereotypes about us, but at Kentucky we’re educated young Black men on this football team and that’s something we carry pride in. That’s something Coach Stoops has set in stone, to know that we are more than athletes…
“We really care for each other. We really empathize with each other and we are a true brotherhood here. We are a true family.”