|This is Cal Basketball / These athletes have a voice and a platform. |
Now, they want to be part of the solution.
Cal women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb is as competitive an individual as any you'll find in college basketball. Winning is important and she sets pretty high standards for her nationally-ranked team. While losing any game is disappointing -- especially when it's by two points in overtime as the Bears experienced during a 58-56 road loss against unranked Long Beach State on Saturday afternoon -- Gottlieb admitted afterwards that she's not sure she's "ever been more proud of these players or our whole team and staff."
Cal's student-athletes have a voice and a platform -- and, in Gottlieb, the women's basketball team has a mentor who encourages them to speak up and act out. In an ever-changing sports landscape, in which athletes are being encouraged to take a stand and become leaders in social activism, Gottlieb understands that her team "wants to be a part of the solution, and they took the steps that were in their power today."
In an interview with EspnW, Gottlieb said: "I trust our players to express themselves in ways that are proactive and productive and not destructive. Our players know they represent us all the time, whether it's at a protest, or in class or at church, or at the movies."
When the 18th-ranked Bears took the court for their warm-ups at the Walter Pyramid arena in Long Beach, Calif., the entire team -- all 10 players, eight of whom are African-American -- wore plain black t-shirts that brought attention to lives lost -- recently and throughout history. The names, which were written in Sharpie ink on strips of masking tape and affixed to each player's t-shirt, included: Emmett Till, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tayvon Martin and Oscar Grant. Each elicited "strong emotions from everyone."
"As student-athletes at Cal, our young women have a voice and a platform, and they chose to use it today."
Across the country in South Bend, Ind., the Notre Dame women's basketball team came out for their pregame warmups at home against Michigan wearing "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts last Saturday. Afterwards, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said he was proud of the stand shown by his players. "They are students first and you want students at a university to be passionate about things, to be engaged in conversations about social issues," he said. "If there's anything I worry it's that our kids get too focused on the athletic side of it and don't do enough of the other things."
Back in Berkeley, which has been a hot bed for protests and has drawn associate head coach Charmin Smith and All-America candidate Brittany Boyd to the streets to participate, it's something echoed by Gottlieb, too. "We can talk about X's and O's all day," she said in a statement released after the game on Calbears.com, the university's athletic website, "but in reality there are bigger life issues and the moral consciousness of our players is something I'm proud of. I don't tell them what to think, but I do encourage them to think."
According to Gottlieb, earlier in the week, the team's captains -- including seniors Boyd and Reshanda Gray -- came to their coach and said that as a team they wanted to wear "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts next Sunday when the Bears play at home against Louisville, a game which is expected to draw their largest crowd of the season to Haas Pavilion. Then, on Saturday, following a morning shootaround, Gottlieb and the team "were quickly met with images from our campus that were disturbing."
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the images were enlarged photographs of lynched African Americans hanging from the university's famed Sather Gate with the words "I Can't Breathe" affixed to each.
"These images may have been to bring awareness to injustice, or they may have been an act of cruelty; either way, they elicited strong emotions from everyone. The entire team came to me. They were compelled to act. We met for 45 minutes about how to best use our voices. As a group, they decided to wear shirts ... and to stand and say that black lives matter; all lives matter."
Despite showing great fight to the end, Gottlieb labeled Cal's overtime loss to Long Beach State, which was the Bears' second straight defeat after opening the season with seven consecutive victories, as "brutal". Yet, she chose to stress the positives: "Our players wearing handmade shirts to symbolize something poignant and important is what I will remember proudly from today. I love this team and staff for who they are as people."
Waiting for her flight home Saturday night, Gottlieb had some time to pause and reflect. "Sometimes," she wrote on her Facebook page, "it's about so much more than the game."
Photos: Courtesy of Cal women's basketball Twitter feed.