Niko Medved has held countless video meetings with his Colorado State men’s basketball players since the end of last season. But their most important conversations were often not about hoops at all.
Nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice in recent months gave the Rams, and everyone involved with college athletics, a moment to reflect.
“It’s hard to do what we do and have relationships with young men, especially young men of color, and not be impacted and disturbed by a lot of the things you see,” Medved told The Denver Post. “We have a really good culture on our team and a lot of guys who really want to learn and listen. And, I think this is a really good opportunity for us to learn more.
“We were talking about this with our guys, that sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know. There are a lot of people, and especially white people, that are naïve to what’s going on and what that feels like to be an African American. It’s been great for us to be open-minded, learn, and have those discussions with our team.”
NCAA athletes across the country have used their platforms for social activism to hold coaches and schools responsible for inequality. It’s already producing results. One example: Nearly every college football coach in the state of Mississippi on Thursday lobbied at the state legislature to change the state flag, which features a confederate symbol.
At CSU, budding star forward David Roddy spent recent months in his hometown of Minneapolis, Minn., Medved said, where Roddy participated in protests and city recovery efforts. Roddy was pictured on Twitter earlier this month donating goods to an “essential needs” drive in his local community.
Increased dialogue about race relations back in Fort Collins also led to a greater push for the Rams to recognize Juneteenth — the annual June 19 celebration marking the emancipation of slaves back in 1865.
“We were talking to our team about Juneteenth and it was amazing how many of our guys, even me, didn’t really understand what that meant,” Medved said. “We’ve had discussions about what we can do to push and make that a national holiday and to draw more awareness to that.”
Medved also agreed with a movement within the NCAA to suspend all activities on Nov. 3, Election Day, to allow for student-athletes to vote. Medved called the idea a “no brainer” and added that it is “not just getting out and voting. It’s also having a willingness to learn and understand what that vote means.”
“This generation, maybe more than any, really has an opportunity to impact change,” Medved said. “I’m really moved by their positivity behind this, their willingness to make a difference and to understand that they can be heard. I think my job as a coach is to help empower players to be able to do that.
“These guys are learning that they have a voice.”