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UT Coaches Demand “Change” and “Progress”

Photo credit: Will Boling/RTI

The University of Tennessee issued a joint statement from Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer and all 15 of Tennessee’s head coaches across all of UT’s athletics programs on Sunday. The statement is in response to the murder of George Floyd by a police officer and the protests and outrage following his murder.

Fulmer and UT’s 15 head coaches all demand “progress” and “action that leads to change” in society, not just on the university’s campus. They also implore Vols fans to support UT’s black athletes not only when they compete in sporting events, but also to help “support them and their families in their daily pursuit of peace, happiness, and equity.”

Here’s the full statement from Fulmer and all of Tennessee’s head coaches:

We hold our student-athletes to very high standards. With rare exceptions, our young men and women meet those standards and represent themselves, their families, their teams and the University of Tennessee with excellence—academically, athletically and socially. Right now, our student-athletes are hurting. They navigate an emotional road of sadness, confusion and rage. Our black student-athletes carry the added burden of fear and hopelessness—an old wound torn open again by the horrifying, auto-repeat playlist of viral violence in our country that seemingly will not cease.

As Tennessee head coaches, we are now calling on anyone who is a fan of the Vols and Lady Vols to meet and expect a standard in our daily walk. Let us all refuse to accept or tolerate the unjust treatment of our black neighbors. Let us challenge those who attempt to justify, dismiss, ignore or explain away mistreatment of blacks or any other person of color. Let us meet this standard head-on, out loud and outside our homes. Demand action that leads to change. Demand PROGRESS. This is a basic, human principle that, among some, seems to have become as endangered as basic human rights for blacks in our communities.

Society could benefit by injecting into our communities an element of the “team” mindset that exists in a sport locker room. It’s widely accepted that sport teaches valuable lessons about leadership, discipline, collaboration, dependability and perseverance. However, the most IMPACTFUL and life-changing lesson sport teaches might actually be the lesser-touted ability to fully accept and embrace people who are different from us and have very different life experiences. On healthy teams, if you wear the same jersey as me, I’ve got your back—regardless of race or ethnicity, it doesn’t matter. Let’s go work together and win. Period.

Wherever you’re reading this, it likely holds true that the cultures that exist in the sports programs at your local high school or college are much healthier than the culture in your local community. Why do these healthy cultures exist in small sports teams’ locker rooms all across the country, but not in our larger communities? What can we study within a healthy team dynamic that can be applied to a metropolitan city or a rural farm town? As coaches, we don’t have all the answers to fix what’s been broken for so long. But if total acceptance, understanding and empathy—regardless of human differences—can coexist on sports teams, those things should be able to coexist anywhere.

Vol Nation, let’s rise to the challenge to meet a new standard. If you’re going to support our black student-athletes when they compete, please have the courage to support them and their families in their daily pursuit of peace, happiness and equity.

The end of the statement was “signed” by Fulmer and all of Tennessee’s head coaches.

  • Phillip Fulmer, Director of Athletics
  • Beth Alford-Sullivan, Track & Field/Cross Country
  • Rick Barnes, Men’s Basketball
  • Lisa Glenn, Rowing
  • Kellie Harpter, Women’s Basketball
  • Matt Kredich, Swimming and Diving
  • Alison Ojeda, Women’s Tennis
  • Judi Pavon, Women’s Golf
  • Brian Pensky, Soccer
  • Jeremy Pruitt, Football
  • Eve Rackham, Volleyball
  • Tony Vitello, Baseball
  • Brennan Webb, Men’s Golf
  • Karen and Ralph Weekly, Softball
  • Chris Woodruff, Men’s Tennis

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