KU Athletics throws support to campus protest led by women’s basketball team

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — KU’s athletics department offered explicit support to its women’s basketball team as the student-athletes organized a large Black Lives Matter protest on campus Friday.

About 200 students and student-athletes from across many sports joined in the march.

The women’s basketball team said the protest came together organically after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. It started as a conversation Thursday in their athlete lounge, then morphed into a canceled practice so they could plan the march.

“We are angry. We are hurt,” redshirt freshman Chandler Prater said through a bullhorn. She spoke to a crowd in the courtyard of Stouffer Hall with the rest of the team.

“There’s a lot of discomfort and almost a feeling of awkwardness to be focused on playing basketball as a Black woman or a Black man in times like this, and we just felt the need to have a discussion,” Prater said.

While the athletes led the Black Lives Matter march, self-described allies walked in tow — including their coach Brandon Schneider.

“For me, as a white male, it’s impossible for me to say that I know how you feel because I have not lived in their skin. But I can say that I stand with you and I support you,” Schneider said.

“A big thing for me is just to listen, just to hear their experiences and their background,” said Bailey Helgren, a senior on the team. “As a team we’re really close. I consider them my sisters.”

“I’ve only known them for a couple months, but I feel like I’ve known these girls for years,” said Erica Haynes-Oberton, a junior who transferred to play basketball at KU.

But the support for the protest didn’t stop on the team level. The KU athletic department also gave its support to the athlete-led protest.

“And today I think they made a powerful statement. They made a judgement on how to voice their opinion and view, and they did it in a peaceful way,” KU Director of Athletics Jeff Long said. “I love the saying that all lives can’t matter until black lives matter. So we support them, and we want to help them find their voice.”

Some of the athletes also said that they felt compelled to speak out because they understand the huge interest generated whenever anyone mentions the words KU and basketball in the same sentence.

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