Dozens of GV athletes march in solidarity with students during 2020 Equality March


GVL / Nick Moran

Josh Carlson and Kellen Voss

Among the hundreds of Grand Valley State University students who marched on Allendale’s campus last Friday for the Equality March were dozens of GVSU student athletes walking in solidarity with their teammates.

Several student athletes from multiple varsity sports at GVSU dressed in all black and joined the march in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

To see his teammates not only showing support but also engaging in chants and raising their fists for Black Lives Matter was encouraging for Black senior basketball player Christian Negron.

“Everybody understands that it’s a weird time in our country right now, and I don’t think anyone on our team has shied away from having those conversations,” Negron said. “This wasn’t mandatory for anyone to come. I have a lot of white teammates and to see a lot of them come,  it was good to know they have my back, Steve (Lloyd’s) back, and the backs of other black teammates as well.”

Negron said that about three-fourths of his teammates from the basketball team were available to come to the march. The senior felt a sense of pride in the march, knowing that the student athletes on this campus were setting a good example for fellow students while supporting a cause he is passionate about.

“We had talked about this beforehand, about how athletes are looked at as leaders on campus,” Negron said. “A lot of times, students will look to us to be examples, so I was happy to see a lot of other student athletes out there demonstrating that they support a good cause.”

Along with the student-athletes, coaches were also there to support the Equality March. After receiving text messages from some of his players and being made aware of the march, football head coach Matt Mitchell believed it was something that needed to be made a priority for his team.

“We changed our schedule and moved things around to make sure everybody had the opportunity to participate,” Mitchell said. “Back in March when there was a series of events that brought a spotlight on social injustice, and some things regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, we formed a Grand Valley Equality Action Team, a group of players and coaches who are trying to have some action-based things to improve our situation. It’s really important to our team that was involved.”

Defensive back J.T. Webb, who was one of the players that texted Mitchell, was happy to know that his coaches had his back.

“It’s very important, I’m glad that coach Mitchell took time out, and made it a very important thing for our team to participate in,” Webb said. “With everything going on in America, it feels great to have somebody in that position of power behind you, and just as a coach I’m grateful to have him. Being able to switch things around for us to make a difference in our community.”

Webb was happy to see how many people from different backgrounds came together and were there to support one single cause because it’s something that he believes can help towards real change in today’s current climate.

Antonio Strong was also one of the football players to attend the event and expressed the feeling was much different than the protest he attended in downtown Grand Rapids.

“Because it was the Grand Valley community, it felt great to see a lot of people out there supporting the cause,” Strong said. “When you get to actually see the people, you’re around every day, the people you’re taking classes with and they are out there, instead of just ten random people in the city, it’s great.”

Senior soccer forward Ava Cook knew that as soon as her coaches informed the team of the event, that the Laker women’s soccer team was going to attend. There was no hesitation to show support for her fellow teammates and other Laker athletes that come from a different background than her own.

“In that moment, there was nothing more important than us being there and us showing that we support them no matter what,” Cook said. “No matter what our skin color is, we are always there for them. That was definitely a top priority of the day, of the week, of the month, of the year.”

The Equality March brought together coaches and athletes of many Laker teams as well. While usually seeing them separated at different athletic venues, seeing everyone unified and together all for one cause was something Cook saw as very meaningful.

“I think any chance that we get as athletes to come together do something, especially something so important like that, it gives us a great opportunity to connect and share some common ground,” Cook said. “It was awesome to see all of our friends, and people that we might not know that well on other sports teams, to get out there and support the same cause.”

Cook also said that she thought it was another growing moment for her entire team as well as the Laker athletic community as a whole, especially seeing the coaches standing behind their players.

“A lot of people look up to them,” Cook said. “They lead a lot of people on our campus, and I think that it is important that they are all present and show their support. At the end of the day, they’re going to be the ones that stand out, especially in the media. Not even just coaches, anyone who is in a higher seat at the university whether that be professors or an athletic department, it’s fantastic that they are out there supporting, because a lot of people look up to them.”