As jurors in the George Zimmerman trial prepared to reveal the verdict earlier this month, members of the Atlanta-based Game Elite AAU program huddled around a TV at a tournament awaiting the announcement.
They shot video of their reaction to the not guilty verdict and posted it on social media. They also spent much of the next hour discussing their surprise and dismay that the 28-year-old neighborhood watch coordinator who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February would be allowed to walk free.
"It was refreshing for me to see how dialed in they were to a social issue outside of basketball," Game Elite coach Ryan Falker said. "Usually for many of them, it's school and basketball and that's it. But it was good to see they were surprised, they were shocked and they were affected when the verdict came out. I was happy to see that they cared."
Eager to do something that would both spark further discussion and represent his team's reaction to the verdict, Falker had T-shirts made for his players with the phrase "I AM TRAYVON" on the front. Game Elite's 17U team unveiled the shirts at the prestigious Fab 48 tournament in Las Vegas on Wednesday night and will wear them during pregame warmups every game they play this week.
Reaction to the verdict in the Zimmerman trial has been split because of heated debate over the defendant's claim he shot Martin in self defense, but Falker said his team's T-shirts haven't been nearly as polarizing.
Falker's players loved the shirts so much when he surprised them with them Wednesday afternoon that many asked him if they could have shirts made for their younger siblings too. Furthermore, everyone from parents to opposing players and coaches stopped Falker on Wednesday night to express their support for the gesture or ask where they could get a shirt.
"There was no negativity that I was aware of. Everything I got was positive," Falker said. "The biggest point we were trying to make, and the kids understand this, is that could have easily been them. Even the caucasian player I have on my team, he wore it proudly. It could have easily been him. It could have been any child of any ethnicity. That's why they wanted to represent this young man of their generation."