Davidson’s football team came out against social injustice and systemic racism on Thursday, announcing a program that the Wildcats hope will “change and create generational impact.”
The program’s name — PACE — is an acronym for progress, advocate, cooperate and educate.
“It’s a social justice initiative that came up as a team,” Davidson junior linebacker Jalen Jefferson told The Observer. “How can we help make change happen on our campus and in our community? We want to use positivity to help that kind of change happen.”
The impetus for forming PACE happened the day after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by police in Minneapolis in May.
Jefferson said Davidson coach Scott Abell called him, concerned about how the Wildcats’ Black players were dealing with what was becoming a national crisis.
“I told him we had a lot of emotions and we needed support,” Jefferson said. “So coach immediately called a meeting that allowed us to get off our chests how we felt. It was really an emotional meeting.”
The Black players were heard.
“It was very eye-opening,” said Wildcats quarterback Tyler Phelps, who is white. “I had no idea what it was like for them when they left practice or a game. It was certainly a different experience than I had. It wasn’t right.”
Jefferson said the response from his white teammates, while not surprising to him, was a start for the entire team of having a better understanding of each other.
“You don’t really know, because you’re walking in a different pair of shoes than what others are walking in,” Jefferson said. “But we came out of it choosing to work for change. It brought us closer together.”
Said Abell: “You could feel that there was tension, not against each other, but some uneasiness on how the George Floyd death had affected some of the players. I mean, they had seem someone die right in front of them on a video. It wasn’t like reading an article from the other side of the country.”
Abell suggested the players form some kind of group that would help them work through their emotions and feelings, and that doing something that might actually help make change would be ideal.
Over the summer, the PACE idea formed. The announcement came Thursday, as more unrest continues to grow over the shooting death by police of another Black man, Jacob Blake, in Wisconsin.
PACE plans to have a fundraiser soon, with proceeds going to a yet-to-be determined local nonprofit organization.
“It can’t be a program that just puts out a statement when these kinds of things happen,” Abell said. “It’s got to be more concrete, meaningful and impactful. We feel it’s very important that it’s coming from all corners of our locker room.
“We also want to bring groups together. We want great relationships with our campus and community police. We don’t want our Black students and athletes to not trust them. So we’re working on some things to bring those groups together. We’re not sure yet of what kind of platform that will take.”
The Wildcats and other Pioneer Football League teams won’t play this fall due to coronavirus concerns, as are other Davidson teams that compete in the fall in the Atlantic 10.
In June, Wildcats football player ChiChi Odo organized a campus-wide video call in which Davidson athletes talked about being accountable to each other and making a difference locally and on campus, about working with the underprivileged in the town of Davidson, involving professors in the conversation and talking with campus and local police.
A few weeks later, Davidson basketball player Kellan Grady launched College Athletes for Respect and Equality (CARE), a program he hopes will allow college athletes to raise awareness about social injustice and racial inequality.
Davidson also last week apologized for supporting slavery during its first 30 years of the 19th century.
“We want (PACE) to out live us,” Abell said. “This should be a legacy we leave behind for 20 years. This should be something that endures.”
Charlotte 49ers continue important conversations
Charlotte 49ers football coach Will Healy said Thursday that he has continued to have conversations with his team about social injustice and racism over the summer.
“And you hope by the time you get in situations like this, whether it be social injustice, COVID and all the things we’ve been through over the last (several) months, that you have a foundation that you can continue to build on,” Healy said.
“We’ve got a really good group of young men. This conversation isn’t something that vanished since the George Floyd death. This is something that’s constantly part of our culture and making sure guys are comfortable with having a voice and men continue to educate themselves to make sure that their voices are heard and respected.”
49ers senior center Jaelin Fisher said the conversations have had an impact.
“We’re aware of the things that are going on, and we’re trying to come up with a platform to broadcast what we feel and when what we feel about that situations that are going on,” Fisher said. “Coach has done a really good job of talking about the topic and educating himself on those topics.”