"Still more to be done": student athletes protest racial injustice

Updated: Feb 23

Protestors march in to Founders Park, signs in hand. (Photo contributed by: Allison Winters)

In addition to proving to outsiders that student athletes are more than just athletes and maneuvering through the COVID-19 pandemic, black student athletes continue to fight the reality of racism.

Peaceful marches in the name of equality have been prevalent since the civil rights era. In a predominately white town, East Tennessee State University athletics has taken many initiatives to provide a safe haven for their student athletes, one of which was to showcase the support system that resides at ETSU.

On Sept. 30, the ETSU Athletics Department held a march for social justice.

Among hundreds of athletes present, ETSU track and field athlete Kendra Whitehurst expressed how this initiative was a step in the right direction.

“While multiple people are wondering what is next, there can always be more done,” said Whitehurst.

In the meantime, ETSU Athletics has started a 12-part video series called “Jerseys for Social Justice.” Revealed on the Athletics Department’s website, the series will include six black student athletes, two black coaches and administrators within the athletics department.

During this catastrophe, ETSU has created a platform for their athletes to be informative. While some may view this as a small gesture, student athletes like Alyssa Ceja-Pena have felt that she made the right decision coming to ETSU.

Ceja-Pena, a California native and Mexican American, confessed she’d never seen confederate flags until she came to Johnson City. However, the unity walks and the Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, Scott Carter, have made her feel welcomed.

While not all student athletes may deal with racism first hand every day, there are thousands of others who suffer as a result of racism.

“It is not normal to see black people being lynched and becoming a hashtag every week,” said ETSU track and field athlete Aliyah Hill.

History has shown some of the disparities black people have had to deal with due to racism. The American Academy of Family Physicians addresses the topic of institutional racism in the healthcare system.

ETSU football running back Quay Holmes speaks at Founders Park. (Photo contributed by: Allison Winters)

“While segregation and discrimination based on race and ethnicity is no longer legal today, some organizations continue to discriminate based on insurance status, which also disproportionately impacts non-white populations,” stated the AAFP on their website.

Ceja-Pena is a nursing major, and she indicated how important it is for her, as a person of color, to enter the medical field. By taking advantage of ETSU’s nursing program, Ceja-Pena is hopeful that she will be among many who will carry the agenda to eradicate the institutional racism that continues to exist within the medical field.

ETSU Athletics brings more diversity to the campus every year. Although the physical cameras are not rolling behind the scenes, a multitude of athletes have disclosed that Carter has done a wonderful job in showing his stance in the height of racism since the death of George Floyd.

These same athletes have also revealed that seeing so much support from not only their athletic administrative staff, but ETSU students and the residents in the Johnson City area has made them feel as if they are finally being heard.

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