SALT LAKE CITY — Athletes from across the nation, including members of the University of Utah women’s soccer team, ran 8.46 miles Monday in memory of George Floyd. The 8.46 miles was chosen to represent the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck, leading to Floyd’s death. If they wanted to participate, athletes could do it individually or with team members.
Hailey Stodden heard about the idea for the run from her friend on the University of California Santa Barbara soccer team, then brought the idea to her coach.
“I think it was set up in a really good way that allowed as many people to participate as possible,” Utah coach Rich Manning said.
A GoFundMe account was set up for athletes and their friends and family members to donate to as they ran or walked or biked the 8.46 miles, with all donations going directly to Black Lives Matter. As of Wednesday night, the “Collegiate Athletes for Black Lives Matter” fundraising page had raised $78,313.
“I think as athletes, we have a really amazing platform with our following. I think it’s important that we use our voice to share our stories and our experiences to let other people know what it’s about and get other people on board to what we think is right and what we believe in.” — Brooklyn James
The run provided a chance for reflection for those who participated, like Brooklyn James and Stodden.
“The end of my run was in some trails and I had a good time to reflect. It was peaceful and quiet, so I think that was a good experience for me,” James said.
Since the killing of Floyd and the resulting nationwide protests calling for justice, the Utah women’s soccer team has had lots of conversations about race in America.
“I think it’s been at the front of our minds. I would say last weekend, about seven or eight days since the protests started, it’s been the biggest thing that we’ve talked about as a team,” Manning said. “Lots of talking and listening — individual conversations and team conversations.”
Manning feels there is a lot that athletes can do to further the cause of racial justice.
“I think we have a platform in college sports. We have a lot of communities that we are a part of and represent. We have the athlete community, the school community, the city community and the athletic community at large, all over the country,” Manning said. “One thing we can do is bring a lot of attention to the cause. We can also be a part of the community and try to educate ourselves, try to educate each other.”
James and Stodden see an important role for athletes to play in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I think as athletes, we have a really amazing platform with our following. I think it’s important that we use our voice to share our stories and our experiences to let other people know what it’s about and get other people on board to what we think is right and what we believe in,” James said.
“I feel like we have a major role because we have so many young people and athletes that look up to us and I feel like if we set the road for them, I think that’s kind of our duty to show them the right way and what we believe in,” Stodden said.
The team used its platform, issuing a statement Wednesday.
“We, the University of Utah women’s soccer team are saddened, angry and hurting in regards to the unjust murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others. They, along with all others of the Black Community deserve better. We grieve every tragedy that people of color face on an everyday basis.
Racial prejudice, oppression and discrimination have run rampant in the United States for decades both publicly and behind closed doors. This is part of a larger systematic issue that thrives in silence and ignorance. We must RECOGNIZE that there is never an excuse for the mistreatment of an individual based on their race, religion, gender, orientation or background. We must LEARN to LOVE and RESPECT all people.
Our priority now is demanding justice for the lives that have been lost and affected in the Black Community. Our Utah Soccer family will use these tragedies to unify and strengthen us. We will continue to educate ourselves and become more aware of social injustice in our community and around the world. We will use our anger to fuel the change we need to see. We will fight for what we know is right with respect, humility, compassion and love for all people. We will not stop until we all see effective change.”
The team also released a call to action, stating: “We stand together to demand inclusion, unity and compassion in our world. We stand together to ask questions, educate ourselves, and listen. We stand together to speak out and continue this conversation. We stand together for black lives. We stand together to take action and make changes. Now.”