Illinois State athletes have staged a walkout and are refusing to participate in practices after athletic director Larry Lyons said that “all Redbird lives matter” on a conference call last week, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
Lyons made the comment on a department-wide preseason Zoom call last Wednesday night. The comment — extremely similar to the offensive “all lives matter” trope used to criticize the Black Lives Matter movement — set off a wave of criticism throughout the university.
‘All Redbird Lives Matter’
Lyons’ comment quickly drew backlash from around the athletic department at Illinois State, as coaches, players and former athletes took to social media to condemn the statement.
Marcus Belcher, an assistant basketball coach, and Denver Broncos cornerback and former Illinois State star Davontae Harris were among them.
— Marcus Belcher (@Marcus_Belcher) August 27, 2020
WAIT WHAT?? They gone make me disassociate myself with Illinois state as a whole... https://t.co/cL9xvltCYl
— Davontae Harris (@wichkid) August 27, 2020
Lyons issued an apology to the Vidette, the school’s student newspaper, on Friday night.
His intention, he said, was not to slam the Black Lives Matter movement or any Black athletes at the school.
"My intention was to tell all 413 student-athletes that they matter to me and I care about them," Lyons told the Vidette. "The words I choose to use, ‘All Redbird lives matter’ was offensive to many of our student-athletes and I know I hurt a significant number of them by the choice of those words. That was not my intention and I am truly sorry for that.
"Black lives do matter and I am serious when I say that, and all Redbird student-athletes lives matter equally. I should have said that, and I did not. I have a lot of trust to build back."
Running back Jeff Proctor told the Vidette that Lyons held a meeting with athletes on Thursday to address the issue and “try and clear the air.”
“He just said he was there for us and he regrets what he said,” Proctor told the Vidette. “He said Black lives do matter. He said he did not mean that like that. He said we probably don’t believe in the words but he will show.”
A list of demands
Athletes in all but one of the teams at Illinois State, according to the Sun Times, said they won’t return to practices until their list of social justice demands are met — something the students released on social media.
They have demanded that athletic administration staff, coaches and athletes attend seminars, the department hires more people of color in leadership positions mental health positions and training staff positions and implement a plan of action to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
As athletes, We demand change, we demand safety, and we demand a commitment to ensuring black lives matter at ISU.
There are still many more voices to be heard from our fellow athletes, however we must know the administration is committed to change first. pic.twitter.com/P2UiQHZ0yV
— Kimathi Johnson (@KimathioJohnson) August 30, 2020
“It caught us off guard hearing something like that because he is our athletic director,” Proctor told the Vidette. “He is supposed to take care of us and watch out for us. It makes us feel like that he doesn’t have our back and doesn’t care about the Black community.
“How a lot of people took it is downplaying the Black Lives Matter movement.”
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