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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

St. Joe’s teams show support for Black Lives Matter movement

Women’s soccer was one of the first teams to wear Black Lives Matter warm-up gear. PHOTO: DANNY REMISHEVSKY ’23/THE HAWK

In the wake of nationwide demonstrations for racial justice last summer, St. Joe’s Director of Athletics Jill Bodensteiner, J.D., said she encouraged student athletes to “engage in dialogue” that would “lead to education for all.”

“My guidance to our coaches and our student athletes was simply, you can use your platform, but I really want you to have thoughtful conversations as a team about what is your ‘why ’, and whatever you choose to do, does it authentically represent you as individuals and the team?” Bodeinsteiner said. 

The St. Joe’s women’s basketball team did both: they talked, and decided to use their platform to focus on what they saw happening in the U.S.

In a group chat last fall, sophomore forward Gabby Smalls proposed that the team wear Black Lives Matter apparel before the start of games.

Sophomore guard/forward Jaden Walker said everybody on the team immediately endorsed the idea.

“Everyone was willing to do it,” Walker said. 

At their season opener on Dec. 13, the Hawks replaced their regular warm-up jersey with black T-shirts that read “Black Lives Matter.”

Bodensteiner said when the team initially approached her with the idea, she asked to meet with the players and Head Coach Cindy Griffin. 

“I used it to have that conversation and say, ‘Have you reflected on your why? Have you had dialogue about this or is it just reactionary based on what you’re seeing with the WNBA?’ Bodensteiner said. “And they were really thoughtful, and  they had great team discussions. That team in particular, they have been real leaders on campus.”

 Other teams soon followed with their own statements. St. Joe’s women’s lacrosse players chose to wear Black Lives Matter T-shirts similar to the ones worn by women’s basketball players. Members of the St. Joe’s men’s basketball team wore warm-up shirts that read “Equality.” St. Joe’s men’s soccer players collectively knelt after the playing of the national anthem in their first game on Feb. 15. 

For some teams, the decision to engage publicly as a team in racial justice issues was not as smooth as it was for women’s basketball. While St. Joe’s female soccer players also now wear Black Lives Matters warm-ups, the initial conversation among team members was difficult, said senior midfielder Annie McConnon.

“I think being a primarily white team on campus, we struggled in the beginning with having conversations about race and social injustice,” McConnon said.

McConnon said she stepped up to help spur these challenging conversations with the team by “reaching out to specific people so that we can get the whole team on board.” 

Choosing to wear Black Lives Matter warm-ups was not the women’s basketball team’s only decision, said senior guard Mary Sheehan. The team deliberately chose RoloVinyl, a Black-owned business in Philadelphia, to create the warm-up apparel.

“We decided to not only get the shirts and have them made, but also [to] walk the talk,” Sheehan said. 

Women’s basketball Assistant Head Coach John Hampton said the response on social media following the team’s first appearance in the warm-ups has been largely positive. There have only been a few negative reactions directed towards SJU Athletics but “nothing that is too alarming,” Hampton said. 

Hampton said the team was prepared for any criticism.

“If this is something you are committed to and invested to, you’ve got to stand together and stay invested,” Hampton said. 

In 2018, Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham infamously told NBA stars Lebron James and Kevin Durant to “shut up and dribble.” Ingraham’s message was that sports had no place overlapping with politics. 

Ingraham’s words inspired the opposite reaction among the St. Joe’s women’s basketball team, Sheehan said, adding that Ingraham’s phrase motivates the players at St. Joe’s to be more than just student athletes. 

“Any platform that you have, you should use,” Sheehan said. “We have a platform as Division I athletes, as individuals and then collectively as a team, so I think we should be using it.”

In fact, Walker said that in some ways, college athletes can have as much of an impact as celebrity professional athletes. 

“I don’t think an issue like that is just for celebrities,” Walker said. “It’s important that a program and school like ours is doing this because small schools matter and can motivate the people around them.” 

Hampton said it is a sign of progress that so many of St. Joe’s teams have decided to take public stands against racial injustice.

“It’s allowed everyone to be a little more courageous,” Hampton said.

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