On Saturday — as hundreds of thousands swept through American cities, Seattle included, protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 — University of Washington athletic director Jen Cohen sent a video message to her student-athletes, coaches and staff.
That video was shared with The Times by UW athletics on Tuesday morning.
“What’s up, Huskies? Jen Cohen here,” she said in the video. “I’ve been trying for the last three or four days to come up with some words, some level of support, for our student-athletes of color and our staff and members of our community of color. And I’ve got to be honest, I’ve just been at a loss for what I can say and how I can support those that are hurting so much. I think that’s just because I’m a white woman who has a lot of privilege … with two white sons who have a lot of privilege, and I just haven’t walked in the shoes of so many of our student-athletes and staff members and my friends that are of color.
“And as a leader of an athletic department that’s so diverse, that’s the beauty of Husky athletics and our teams, is that we have people that come from so many different backgrounds and come together and we love each other and we align and we connect and we find a way to make things better through competition. I just want to find a better way to do that as an athletic community as it relates to racism and social justice and the inequities within our country. And so my message is really that I’m thinking about our folks in our community that we love and care about that are hurting — that have so much understandable rage and anger and fears. I’m just thinking about you all, and I want to make sure that our staff and our student-athletes also know that we have resources to support you.
“So we’ll be sending some information out over the coming week to our students and to our staff. We’ll hopefully be able to have a conversation and answer some questions around this for our student-athletes at our town hall on Thursday. But until then, I want you all to know that you’re not alone, and we’re here to not only support you but to stand by you.”
A visibly emotional Cohen shook her head, then closed her address by repeating: “It’s not OK. It’s not OK. Yeah. So I love you guys, and we’re here, and let’s stand together. Go Dawgs.”
Of course, members of the UW athletics department have published prepared statements as well. First-year Husky head football coach Jimmy Lake tweeted in part that “the anguish I felt watching the life be taken from George Floyd has left many of us heartbroken and angry. The incidents of the past few months must spark a change for us to do better as a society.” Head men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins shared that “we met with our team yesterday and I witnessed their pain, I witnessed their anger, I witnessed their hurt. I’m not an expert on social justice. I’m not an African-American male. But I do know the difference between right and wrong. What happened to George Floyd, and countless other individuals of color, is tragic and wrong. It is beyond disturbing.”
Likewise, a joint statement by all Pac-12 athletic directors and the conference at large on Monday night declared that “the Pac-12 prides itself on our diversity, inclusiveness and commitment to social causes in our communities and our society as a whole. Over the past days and in the coming days, weeks and months, we will continue to engage with our student-athletes, coaches and other members of our Pac-12 community to discuss how collectively we can take actions to help end racism and injustice. We will also be hosting a number of forums with our student-athletes, moderated by thought-leaders in combating racism, to discuss the issues of discrimination and injustice highlighted by this latest tragedy and to develop action plans.”
On Tuesday, those statements were followed by a purposeful social media silence. At 8:45 a.m., Washington Athletics’ official Twitter account published a black screen alongside the following sentiment: “Today, we are putting a pause on social media as we take time to listen to, learn from, and support the Black community. We stand with the fight for racial equality. #BlackOutTuesday”. The university’s individual team accounts followed suit.
The UW football program’s Twitter account tweeted a black screen with the caption, “Black Lives Matter #BlackoutTuesday”. Football coach Jimmy Lake tweeted a black screen and a message that read, “Time to reflect on lives lost and how do we create real change. BLM“. Co-defensive coordinator Ikaika Malloe tweeted a black screen. Tight-ends coach Derham Cato tweeted a black screen. Wide receivers coach Junior Adams tweeted a black screen. Running backs coach Keith Bhonapha tweeted a black screen. Assistant defensive-backs coach Terrence Brown tweeted a black screen.
And their coordinated and collective silence continued the conversation.