During a virtual press conference on Thursday, Tennessee head football coach Jeremy Pruitt stated that UT’s players have expressed to him and his coaching staff that they would like to wear black jerseys against Kentucky in the 2020 season and auction off the uniforms after the game and donate that money to Black Lives Matter.
After those comments were made, many fans had questions about where exactly that money would be going. Would UT be donating directly to the Black Lives Matter organization, or would the money simply be in support of the idea of “black lives mattering” and be given back to the Knoxville community?
On Friday morning, wide receivers coach and former Vol quarterback Tee Martin joined The Swain Event morning radio show to clear that up. Martin is heading up the Culture Committee at Tennessee, a new group founded by Pruitt and Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer to listen to UT’s players about enacting change in the football team and in the culture of the program and university.
According to Martin, any money raised from auctioning off the black jerseys will stay in the East Tennessee community.
“We’re supporting hearing our players, giving an opportunity to speak their hearts and minds, and supporting the community we serve,” Martin explained. “The statement (Pruitt made) was speaking more to that, not necessarily to that organization (Black Lives Matter). We’re going to find an organization within our community to support.
“We never talked about donating to that particular organization, nor will we do that. We’ve looked at giving back to the community in Knoxville, and we haven’t found that organization yet. That’s as far as that has gone so far.”
As for how the idea of wearing black jerseys to support the Black Lives Matter movement came about, Martin said it was a multi-faceted situation.
Martin claims that players have talked to Pruitt and UT’s coaches for a while about wearing some sort of alternate uniform, whether it’s a Smokey Gray variant or black jerseys. With the current climate in the US, Martin, Pruitt, and many of Tennessee’s players felt this would be a good way to give back and support a cause while also getting something the players have asked for.
“These players now, they love the uniforms. They’ve been wanting the Smokey Gray, wanting black jerseys for a while,” Martin said. “When everything was happening, it was brought to Coach Pruitt’s attention. It had legs earlier, but it kinda went away. But now it felt like a great way to show our support, for him to show his support, and all of us to show our support for the cause.
“I’m proud of (the players) for being able to stand up and speak their minds and impressed with our head coach to hear their voices and have the wherewithal to listen to them and actually do it.”
The new Culture Committee that Martin is leading was started this offseason, and Martin believes the early returns from the new committee have been very positive. He sees it as a way for Tennessee to use their huge platform (Tennessee’s official football Twitter account has over 600,000 followers, and the official Facebook page has over 600,000 likes) to try and bring about change and elevate the voices of UT’s players.
“We had a meeting, and we looked at what can we do, how can we make it better for players, make a platform for their voices to be heard, both white and black,” Martin explained. “In America right now, you’re seeing people using whatever platform they have to make a difference. We felt the need to use our platform to make a difference. Coach Pruitt and Coach Fulmer wanted to make the Culture Committee, and I’m heading that up. We sent out a text telling players about it and that they don’t have to participate or do anything in it, but there’s been a good response.
“We had a couple meetings, and hearing what our players are thinking and experiencing at UT both good and bad and how we can make it better. We’ve been helping get our players registered to vote, getting speakers in here to educate, and use this platform to do good things.”
Martin, Pruitt, and Fulmer all want to use Tennessee’s considerable platform to try and enact change in the East Tennessee community and across the country. Whether that’s through wearing black jerseys to raise awareness, donating back to the community, or raising up voices, there are plenty of opportunities for Tennessee’s new Culture Committee to do just that.
You can hear the full interview with Tee Martin on The Swain Event here.