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Women’s basketball leading “hands-on” fight for unity, hard conversations and empathy in the age of social media

The Kentucky women’s basketball team took a stand on Wednesday, and they aren’t done yet. Their day consisted of a social justice march across campus in the morning, followed by a unity fair and a (virtual) press conference with the media in the afternoon. Sights and sounds from the march included chants, posters, prayers and speeches. The unity fair that followed included booths with information on subjects ranging from mental health to voter registration.

Upon my arrival, I was told the entire day, from start to finish, was planned by the student athletes. They were the ones who had the idea in the first place; they were the ones who did the research for each of the informational poster boards. Sure, they received support along the way from the coaches and administrators, and the official UK Hoops twitter account helped spread the word, but this was a player-led march. That meant something to them.

“Everybody [across the country] was sitting out of practices and games that day, and we decided to do the same. We skipped one practice and came up with what we wanted to do. At first, it was just going to be a march. And then some of our teammates added that we wanted to do more things that would be more hands-on,” said senior KeKe McKinney. “We split everybody up in groups… It was everybody contributing.”

That group contribution culminated in an inclusive event. The UK hoops team may have organized it, but plenty of others participated in it and learned from it. Members of the UK volleyball team, men’s and women’s soccer teams, and track and field teams also attended the march and subsequent fair. Students walking by Memorial Coliseum on their way to or from class stopped by the informational tables; drivers on Rose Street and Avenue of Champions honked their horns or waved out their windows in support. Everyone wore masks.

“We made an environment where people felt comfortable to ask questions, and that’s what is important. We want to spread awareness, but we also want to answer questions,” said redshirt sophomore Olivia Owens. “It was honestly a lot of support; no one was negative. We definitely welcome a difference of opinion, but we don’t like disrespect, and it was a wonderful event.”

It was like a family cookout, even though some of them were strangers,” McKinney added. “The vibes there were all positive, and I loved every second of it.”

Part of that environment can be attributed to the environment the team’s coaches are working to curate among the group with their willingness to have hard conversations.

“Basketball is more than the physical aspects of the game; there’s a mental aspect. With regards to all of the stuff going on in the world and in our lives, that does affect us mentally. To be able to talk to our coaches and have a very open dialogue and open communication with them is very important,” Owens said. “To know we have their support always really does mean a lot. It’s genuine support, it’s not ‘oh, we’ll just post a little flyer.’ They’re out there with us, and they mean it.”

“It makes us feel like we have more power with their help. We’re on big platforms, but they’re on bigger platforms,” McKinney added. “It shows they love us not just as players, but also as people. They care about what’s going on in our world and how we feel about it.”

“They’re going to support whatever we want. If we want to go out and protest, they’re going to make it happen. They’re going to support us; they’re going to make sure we’re heard,” junior Rhyne Howard said. “We’re more than just athletes to them.”

Making sure they’re seen as more than athletes will continue to be a priority for this team — and other teams on campus — moving forward. One member of the volleyball team held a sign that read “Love us on and off the court or don’t support us at all,” and another carried one reading “you don’t deserve Black athletes if you don’t value Black lives.” Those sentiments are felt by the hoops team too, especially after they saw some of the comments from Kentucky fans regarding their “We the people” video earlier this week.

I think it’s important those who do comment on our videos understand we’re talking about Black Lives Matter, the statement,” Owens said. “I feel like we put out a video with regards to how we feel about things, as athletes speaking out on issues in our lives.”

Now is a good time for a reminder that players, recruits and their families can see you. That’s the title of an article KSR’s own Drew Franklin published in response to a few UK football players and one UK football recruit’s mother sharing their disappointment after some members of the fanbase reacted negatively to the team’s walk-out in late August. When the men’s basketball program put out their own Black Lives Matter video, players and their families could also see the hurtful comments that rolled into their mentions.

The same can be said for the women’s basketball team.

After seeing the backlash — especially that our men’s team had to face — it was definitely devastating. It’s easy to say ignore it, but we’re people and we see [those comments],” Owens said. “We’ve got to just keep moving on, keep putting our foot forward. We’re going to continue to talk about the things that affect us, our families, and our teammates. Hopefully we get that support. We have gotten a lot of support, and we’ll continue to focus on those who do support us.”

“If people have a problem with what we’re saying or how we’re expressing ourselves,” Howard interjected, “Then they can just see themselves through the door.”

The support they have felt, however, has motivated them to keep pushing. Even today, Howard — who is normally one of the more-reserved players on the team, despite her All-American status — felt emboldened enough to stand at the front of the crowd and lead the chants using a megaphone.

“I definitely got comfortable seeing that everyone was supporting me. Having Dre [Edwards] up there with me made it even better,” Howard said. “Usually I am kind of shy and I don’t say much, but today was a chance for me to be heard and for me to get everything out there that I need to say.”

Fellow leader Edwards also had the chance to get out the words she isn’t necessarily used to sharing with others. According to her teammates, she’s interested in the theatre, and she’s invited them to several plays. She put that passion to work on Wednesday with a reading of an original poem, something she says she loves doing.

“It actually wasn’t my idea to share my poems, my teammates thought it would be good if I did and I went along with it,” Edwards told KSR. “In the beginning I had jitters. I was a little nervous as everyone was watching me. My first thought was not to mess up, [and] I did a little but thats ok. After I got over my jitters, I was thinking to myself that I have to speak loud so that everyone could not only hear what I was saying, but feel what I was saying. I had a ton of fun doing this.”

“It was powerful,” McKinney said of her teammate’s words. “She did an amazing job, and I felt like it touched and reached a lot of people.”

Not long after Edwards’ speech, the microphone was handed off to the UK Police Department’s Chief, Joe Monroe. He was there for a question-and-answer session with the players and anyone else who was in attendance. He answered questions about his officers’ body cameras and the training they go through in order to work on campus, for example. The way he conversed with the crowd and answered their questions seemed to satisfy those in attendance, and Owens even called him cool.

“I think it was really cool to be able to talk to him. He’s a really cool guy just as a person, and hearing his answers to our questions definitely makes me think he’s also a cool officer as well. It made me feel more comfortable on campus, to be honest with you,” the University of Maryland transfer said. “I’m new to campus; I’m new to Kentucky in general. To hear his thoughts on how there are race initiatives with regards to people and officers, and the steps he’s taken as the chief to create a more-inclusive environment has made me more feel a lot more comfortable on campus.”

“What we want to do is bring together the Black community and police officers to re-establish the relationship and to gain trust,” she continued. “I feel like a lot of times, people think the Black Lives Matter movement is anti-police, and that’s not it at all. We definitely address police brutality, but we don’t think all cops or all police officers are bad. We wanted to make that clear and show that we can work together. That was our goal.”

“I think as a group we got a lot of good insight on what kind of protocols they go through and what precautions he’s taking to make sure his officers continue to do the right thing and not be like what we’re seeing on TV and on the news everyday,” Howard added.

This conversation, and the ones the student athletes have been having with their teammates and coaches for the past several weeks, will not be the last. The team is already brainstorming their next move. They’re hoping to expand on the “hands-on” approach they achieved on Wednesday. Perhaps each future event could go more in-depth on the topics that were covered at today’s tables. Their main goals will remain the same – start conversations and promote unity.

In that regard, they’re taking notes from the pros. Literally. The women leading the charge in the WNBA have served as examples for how to use platforms, create change, and still ball.

“They are definitely setting the example for us,” Owens said. “They’re in a position we’d love to be in one day, so definitely looking at what they are doing as far as using their platforms to speak out about social injustice. That’s something we want to do as well.”

Of course, that’s a tall order for a group of famously-busy student athletes to pull off even under normal circumstances. It will be even more challenging with COVID-19 restrictions. Still, the team is not done talking about social injustice, and social media in 2020 has made it easier than ever for the players to use their voices and their platforms. As Owens put it, they’re “far from done.”

“It may not be next week, it may not be next month, but just know we are coming,” McKinney added. “We are going to use social media. We’re always going to speak out either on our personal [accounts] or our UK account. We’re not going to stop at all.”

Rhyne Howard wrapped things up best.

“There will be no question about how the women’s basketball team is feeling.”

Article written by Maggie Davis

I love sports, podcasts, long walks on the beach and Twitter (@MaggieDavisKSR)

34 Comments for Women’s basketball leading “hands-on” fight for unity, hard conversations and empathy in the age of social media

  1. UKFanSC
    10:18 pm September 16, 2020 Permalink

    Truly inspirational

    • Cousins Fake Tooth 2
      7:02 pm September 17, 2020 Permalink

      How and/or why is it? Statistics prove its all nonsense.

  2. Section233
    10:48 pm September 16, 2020 Permalink

    So who exactly is the intended target audience the march is supposed to reach? Do the players believe their fans need to hear the social justice message because the fans of today support you and should not be the focus of protests marches and lectures. Progress over protest. Stop kneeling stop marching and acting like those on campus or in the stands are the ones who need to hear your message. Fans of all backgrounds are tired of feeling like the intended target for your message. More votes for local government officials who actually care about creating policies to help the community is were we should focus our attention. More votes less protests more progress. Know your audience

    • mashman 93
      10:54 pm September 16, 2020 Permalink

      Oh boy

    • madarchitect
      10:52 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

      Section 233 – If you don’t realize that this is geared towards you and those that are like-minded, then ignorance truly is bliss.

    • Cousins Fake Tooth 2
      7:02 pm September 17, 2020 Permalink

      Other terrorist organizations such as themselves.

  3. BluKudzu
    10:50 pm September 16, 2020 Permalink

    I agree and will add, these ladies provide hope for our future.

    This is as patriotic as it gets, and the message is clear, it is time for change in America.

    Long over due, and my respect for those standing against injustice could not be higher.

    Love these Lady Cats. Backing them every step.

  4. Jambluehue99
    11:08 pm September 16, 2020 Permalink

    I wonder if these, or any athletes suddenly “enlightened”, actually understand what and who they are supporting. It’s obvious they are not clued into actual facts for the most part. The ability to process information and think for yourself is almost extinct. People have become slaves to social media and are too easily led around like sheep.

    • runningunnin.454
      1:23 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

      Olivia Owens quote is “…we’re talking about Black Lives Matter, the statement”. Surely all of us can support that statement; I think you are talking about the organization; there is an obvious distinction. Of course the organization is more political in nature; it seems to me that the team is thinking for themselves.

  5. chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
    12:38 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

    Did they have anything to say about the 2 LA deputies that were shot?

    • DelrayCat
      1:12 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

      Why should they? Like any other attempted murder in America, if the suspect is caught, he goes to jail. Whereas, if a cop shoots an un-armed black man and kills him…he get’s paid leave while the system looks the other way. Why are you fake outrage so-called Christians are desperate to start your race war?

    • runningunnin.454
      2:07 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

      Delray, he just made a statement; why call him names and try to judge his heart? I can guarantee Chris g does not want such a war; the only people, in my opinion, that have incited a race war are the media…and Charles Manson with his so-called Helter Skelter strategy.

    • UKnowMe
      8:19 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

      Chris, you have become one of if not the most annoying posters on this site. You continue to try to devalue people’s social change message with your “whataboutism’s” Yes the LA deputies shooting is horrible but why try to use that as a slight to these young ladies. And since you are so fond of bible verses how about Luke 15. Worry not about the 99 that are safe and focus on the one that is not. Right now that one is people of color.

    • runningunnin.454
      9:19 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

      UKnowMe; I don’t think Chris is trying to slight the women; but, the Luke 15 reference is quite good. That would be a touch in fencing…or as the French would say, touche’

    • chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
      9:48 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

      UKnowMe, I constantly see someone deflect with the “Whataboutisms” charge when they don’t want to address an argument, or when they want to justify the riots (I’m not saying you are doing the latter). Of course I believe in that scripture, of course. I deal in facts, and I truly believe that, 1) the charge that there is a systematic, coordinated effort by cops to hunt down black people is a false one, and that, 2) racial reconciliation cannot happen when a movement is based on a falsehood that stems from an organization with the philosophies of BLM. There are black people out there who say that as well.

      Look, I wish peace for you, the players, everyone. I don’t wish ill will on anyone, and I don’t wish excessive force by cops on anyone. RG, told a harrowing story of a police encounter a while back. I know it happens, but I just wish folks would wait for facts to come out before making judgments about “the one”. I am glad they had the UKPD chief there to speak. That is absolutely a positive thing.

      I’m sorry for being so brusque at times. People who know me know what I am about, but what you said does give me pause.

    • Section233
      8:49 pm September 17, 2020 Permalink

      Cal got the whole team registered to vote. They are all now registered Republicans. I hope Mitchell is able to do the same. Get out and vote America!

    • chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
      9:56 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

      I should have said “runningunnin.454 told a harrowing story…” in case you didn’t know who I was referring to.

    • Bluebird
      10:11 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

      Chris, it’s been explained to you countless times that the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t have much to do with the Black Lives Matter organization. The movement isn’t a tightly organized, ideologically homogenous corporation or whatever you want it to be. It’s thousands and thousands of people who see the world differently but all agree to come together to demonstrate in favor of one thing they all have in common: that Black people deserve to be treated equally.

      It’s weird how any time a cop abuses his power and brutalizes a Black person your response is, “Shrug. Most cops are good people. Be patient. They’ll sort this out. Never mind all the times when nothing’s been done.” But when a Black person shoots someone you say, “Every single person protesting for Black equality must address this or their entire movement is invalidated.” It’s weird that you don’t see a double-standard there.

    • chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
      10:49 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

      Anyway, Bluebird, Delray, UKnowme, here is a positive post from me. Peace folks.

    • Keets
      12:02 pm September 17, 2020 Permalink

      UKnowME, Luke 15…applicable – But, maybe reconsider your interpretation and application. Is it about a lost, misguided person who needs both love and truth (Jesus), needs to repent and be welcomed back to what is true and good? Some of us are concerned over our direction and believe that the lost sheep (we are all sheep, biblically) are our fellow Americans, or even all of us as a country all together (not simply people of color as you claim). Lost, vulnerable, misguided people being used towards a manipulative, divisive, manufactured narrative whose power is built largely on falsehoods. Then, what does Luke 15 call us to do? Above all, accept love and truth, repent and follow Jesus. If you want to apply it to what we as people can do for others, then for some of us, dispelling what we believe to be false narratives and dangerous world views, as best we can, pointing to God, is in fact in line with Like 15. It definitely doesn’t mean blindly help a lone, crying sheep how they want to be helped, at the expense of truth.

    • chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
      4:33 pm September 17, 2020 Permalink

      Well Bluebird, I responded to you earlier and it got taken down. Oh well, suffice it to say we just won’t see eye to eye on some of these things, but I wish peace for all.

  6. runningunnin.454
    1:27 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

    Thanks, Maggie, for leaving the comments open; it gives us the opportunity to support the team; and, it shows the same courage that the team has shown.

    • chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
      7:41 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

      Agreed. I should have said that too. I’ve been tough on Zack for not doing so.

  7. CahillsCrossingNT
    7:17 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

    Mitchell will never make a Final Four. He’s an empty suit.

  8. millertim
    7:41 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

    Hahaha!!! “Hard conversations”???? What conversations??? You need two sides speaking to have a conversation. Like most “conversations” on social media or in a public forum, one side is bullied and shouted down into silence while the other parades, boasts, protests, and loots!! Welcome to 2020 or the foreboding “1984”…

  9. UKFanSC
    8:22 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

    While I am truly impressed with the passion these young ladies bring to the issue, their tactics unfortunately are similar to the ones being used by BLM. This will inevitably lead to more division between the races. The narrative that cops are bad, historical injustices need to be immediately corrected, and the way to do it is through increasingly confrontational protesting could lead to another Civil War. People are hoarding guns and ammunition’s at an unprecedented rate. Eventually the hollow gestures and political tap dancing will cease to appease the mob. Nothing about wearing a provocative shirt, or painting a mural, or tearing down a statue really changes anything. True change is likely a generation or more away. Sadly this does not meet the expectations or requirements of the mob. Should Donald Trump be reelected, it will be the ……………hell, I cannot even complete this sentence.
    When Black people get to the point where they need a separate national anthem before professional sports games you need all you need to know about where their minds are. Nothing short of a separate nation will accommodate what they want. I do not see this ending well.

    • 4everUKBlue
      9:11 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

      Division between races is the goal of the powers that should not be and has been for a long time.

  10. CatsDLegit
    8:25 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

    If they want to get a message out, how about don’t resist? Especially if you are armed with a knife, wanted for sexual assault of a 14 year old and reaching into a car full of kids where you could be reaching for a weapon. Otherwise, stop this nonsense and think for yourselves. Besides it’s funny to hear a basketball team say they’re oppressed when there’s no white players on the team. GTFOH!

    • runningunnin.454
      9:01 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

      What are you talking about? There are white players on the team.

    • Cousins Fake Tooth 2
      7:08 pm September 17, 2020 Permalink

      CatsDLegit, stop with the common sense. Doesn’t work in 2020 lol. 99.9% have no one to blame but themselves, unless you are “woke” then you just blame everyone else for your own actions.

  11. StoneColdSaidSo
    9:01 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

    Can someone please tell me what the end goal is? If you’re marching on simply the statement “black lives matter,” go on and find me 2 people who don’t agree with that already. And when’s the “don’t kick puppies” march?
    I truly don’t understand the endgame. The conversation always seems to lead into police brutality without delving into specifics of individual cases. For these marches to have any legitimacy someone’s going to have to start pointing to specific examples of actual racism. If this comment even makes it through I’ll get shouted down by someone, but literally all I’m saying is I don’t understand what change is trying to be implemented.

  12. 4everUKBlue
    10:31 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

    According to KSP Kentucky ranks 9th in the nation in human trafficking with the average child under 12 years old. What about them? I guess that does not fit the agenda to divide and conquer. There are 40,000 plus missing and trafficked children in this country every year. Why do they not have a voice?

    • madarchitect
      10:58 am September 17, 2020 Permalink

      Deflection might help you ignore the problem, but it is not a solution. Neither are links to conspiracy theories.

  13. VirginiaCat
    1:54 pm September 17, 2020 Permalink

    I have noticed that, apparently, a fair amount of selective posting and editing goes on when it comes to social justice issues, not to mention those times when the comments are disallowed altogether. That strikes me as a bit heavy handed, but I recognize the possibility that I am wrong. Thoughts from those of you on this board who have been around a while? Lets see if this makes it through the review process and focuses a bit of sunshine on the matter.