SEATTLE — Look around the Washington Huskies basketball program. It is black and white. It is old and young. It comes from states like Georgia, New York and Washington. It comes from nations like Congo, New Zealand and the United States.
Anyone who has followed the Huskies this season is aware of their “Tougher Together” mantra adopted by first-year coach Mike Hopkins. The phrase is plastered all over the team’s social media accounts, the Alaska Airlines Arena and its even on the team’s warm-up shirts. On the back of those shirts are words like “equality”, “family” and “strength.”
Those words are the product of the Huskies addressing the topic of social injustice. Hopkins and his staff wanted their players to express themselves while also applying a personal touch.
UW debuted the new shirts a few days ago against California at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
“With what was happening with social injustice and what you were watching in the NFL and NBA, there was all this discussion,” Hopkins said. “So Dr. Ed Taylor, a professor here, we reached out to him see if he would educate our kids on the issue. Sometimes, as a kid, you’re so influenced by watching television. It’s ‘Oh, because he does it, I’m going to do this’ but not really knowing what the issues are.”
Taylor is the university’s vice provost and the dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs, according to his official UW bio. He joined UW’s College of Education in 1995. Taylor’s work focuses on topics such as social injustice.
Hopkins said Taylor recently met with the team and they spoke for 90 minutes. The session was meant for UW’s players and Hopkins says he’s a little curious to know the details of what was discussed.
One thing gleaned from the meeting was Taylor asking each player to select a word that’s important to them.
Huskies junior point guard and Tacoma native David Crisp selected “equality.”
“It’s obvious. All the stuff going on in the media today, you can’t miss it,” Crisp said. “All the controversies, racial controversies. With us being athletes and everything we do is put on a platform. Being that we have that light, it’s always good to try and make a difference for the better.
“We all decided that’s going to be our way of showing everybody our stance on this and how we feel about it.”
Crisp said he chose “equality” because he believes every person — regardless of who they are — deserves to be treated equally.
“We’re born the same. Every man. Every woman,” Crisp said. “We’re all humans. Everybody should all be equal.”
Politics and sports have always intersected but the relationship between the two is at a fever pitch. It started in 2016 when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem in the NFL’s preseason to protest police brutality toward people of color.
The Seattle Seahawks, led by defensive tackle Michael Bennett, have been at the forefront of the continuing protest. Although no NBA players knelt, many of the league’s coaches and players have openly discussed their thoughts.
Collegiate athletes are also weighing in.
Michigan State’s men’s basketball team held meetings earlier in the season to discuss social injustice, according to The Detroit Free Press.
The Spartans have also donned T-shirts with phrases such as “We Talk, We Listen” and “It’s Not About Me, It’s About Us.”
“That’s why I love Coach Hopkins. He didn’t put a muzzle on us and say, ‘You guys don’t say nothing,’” Crisp said. “He said, ‘If you guys feel strongly about this, let’s present that. Let’s do something about it.’”
Hopkins said after the team met with Taylor, they spoke with players to found out how it went.
UW’s first-year coach recalled how sophomore guard Carlos Johnson told him how he was both engaged and motivated after speaking with Taylor.
Taylor initially wanted the team to pick one collective word.
“But they were like if we pick this word, it’s not really individual because we’re all going to have our own individual feelings toward it,” Hopkins said. “They decided to pick their own word.”
Freshman guard Jaylen Nowell picked “passion” while junior forward Matisse Thybulle went with “solidarity.”
Junior forward Noah Dickerson, who is from Atlanta, used “power.” Sophomore center and New Zealand native Sam Timmins opted to go with “family.”
“It brings everybody closer together,” Crisp said. “Knowing that you have that trust and that somebody’s not telling you ‘don’t say this, don’t say that.’ We carry ourselves to a high standard and we’re not going to say anything that misrepresents us in a negative way.
“Knowing that we have that trust … with the university as well, that’s huge.”