Instead of donning the same "I Can't Breathe" shirts worn by many other college and NBA teams during the past week, the Cal women's basketball team opted for something slightly more powerful.
Before its 58-56 loss to Long Beach State on Saturday night, the Bears wore homemade shirts featuring the names of black victims of violence on the front and the words “Black Lives Matter,” and “We Are Cal” on the back. Cal players also struck a "hands up, don't shoot" pose during the national anthem.
“Of course losing this game is disappointing," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said in a postgame statement. Saturday night. "That said, however, I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud of these players or our whole team and staff.
"As student-athletes at Cal, our young women have a voice and a platform, and they chose to use it today. They want to be part of a solution, and they took the steps that were in their power today."
The "I Can't Breathe" shirts worn by athletes this week were meant to be a declaration of support for the family of Eric Garner, who died July 17 after a New York police officer placed him in a chokehold while arresting him. A recording shows Garner gasping the words "I can't breathe" during the fatal encounter.
LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant are among the players who have donned the shirts in the wake of a grand jury decision not to indict the officer. The idea is to maintain the spotlight on Garner's death and the issue of police conduct.
Gottlieb said her players initially approached her about wearing "I Can't Breathe" shirts before next Sunday's game against Louisville, but an incident on campus convinced the Bears to act sooner. Three cardboard cutouts of African-Americans were found hanging in effigy by nooses Saturday morning on famous landmarks on Cal's campus.
"These images may have been to bring awareness to injustice, or they may have been an act of cruelty; either way, they elicited strong emotions from everyone," Gottlieb said. "The entire team came to me. They were compelled to act. We met for 45 minutes about how to best use our voices. As a group, they decided to wear shirts that brought attention to lives lost – recently and throughout history – and to stand and say that black lives matter; all lives matter.
"I wish we had won today. It was a brutal loss, but our players wearing handmade shirt to symbolize something poignant and important is what I will remember proudly from today."
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