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“We’re focused on this topic and not just on basketball”: Bradley Athletics comes together in light of the Black Lives Matter movement

In the wake of nationwide protests against the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others at the hands of police, Bradley student-athletes set out to create an event of their own. 

The result was a well-attended walk down Main Street and subsequent rally outside of Carver Arena at which women’s basketball player Marhi Petree, men’s basketball player Terry Nolan and Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Chris Reynolds spoke. 

Despite their short term success, Petree and Nolan continue to stay focused on the work that remains to be done.

“Keep supporting,” Nolan, a rising senior, said at the rally on June 9. “That means keep donating, keep going back to our Black business owners, keep signing petitions. Do everything necessary and possible, in your power, to keep spreading the word on Black Lives Matter.” 

Over a hundred students, coaches participated in the march, which started at the Renaissance Coliseum and ended at the Peoria Civic Center with student speeches.

“We can’t let our enthusiasm about what’s going on stay in today,” sophomore Mahri Petree said at the march. “Over time, things lose their power, but this is the power. This is our fuel source, each other.”

The presence of fans and community members at the protest further motivates the players to enact change. 

“I guess you could say it was a collective decision, we all wanted to do it,” Nolan said in an interview later in the month. “To have that fan base come out with us, to have that following, to have that student support, it means a lot. It means people are aware of what’s going on.” 

Petree, who hosts a series of short videos titled ‘Mondays With Mahri’ on, had a tough time putting her thoughts on the subject into words during an early June taping session. 

“I tried to record the video multiple times,”  Petree said. “I didn’t feel like … I couldn’t make up or show the passion that I would have in the moment the same way that I could if I was on the screen.”

According to many, awareness of systematic racism has been sparse and problematic for a long time. Nolan and others believe the problem has just now been brought to a greater light.   

“It’s been happening,” Nolan said. “Now that we have this fuel … let’s let the steam roll, let’s go with the momentum and from here, let’s catapult it forward.” 

In the sphere of Bradley Athletics, that momentum has led to conversations between teammates, classmates, coaches and administrators. For example, conversations between Nolan, his teammates and head men’s basketball coach Brian Wardle got the wheels turning on the protest, which was then supported by the rest of the department. 

The movement was not just limited to the organizing members of the men’s and women’s basketball team, either. Members of most of Bradley’s 12 teams were represented at the protest and they continue to be allies. 

“I’ve reached out to a couple of volleyball players,” Petree said. “Hannah Thompson [has] been very involved and wanting to be clued in on everything going on with the protest so she can relay the information to her team.”

While conversations surrounding race and police brutality have become more common among those who are less affected, discussion of injustice hits home for many players. Twelve members of the men’s program – nine players and three coaches – are people of color. Six members of the women’s program, five players and one coach, are people of color. 

“As teammates, we do talk about it, we send it around, because it’s viral, it’s on Twitter, we all see it,” Nolan said. “Sometimes, the coaches bring us all together to talk about stuff like that. Coaches also bring us aside and talk about how to deal with the police and stuff like that.”

On the women’s team, head coach Andrea Gorski called a team meeting to discuss the events.

“Our team is supposed to be our family away from home, and if we can’t have that honesty and talk about the changes that are going on in our communities then we can’t be a real family,” Petree said.

At the top of Bradley Athletics is Reynolds, who the players said has been a valuable resource and leader during this time of strife. 

“Having a leader that is an African American and is in a position of influence being in full support of his athletes and youth and their voices and empowering them, that gives us all the more strength and all the more confidence to go into what we believe and be powerful about it,” Petree said. 

Reynolds’ leadership, especially in the midst of the social justice movement, is an inspiration for Nolan.

“It is an influence,” Nolan said. “I would love to be in that position and love to have that power and know how to navigate it. He has that, and one day I wish that I’ll be able to have that.”

While there is not another protest or event planned at the moment, ideas for other ways to spread awareness are being tossed around among coaches and players.

Prominent basketball players such as Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving believe that basketball will come as a distraction amidst national protest. Bradley players are considering ways to keep the Black Lives Matter movement at the forefront when sports do return, whether it be by fundraising or continuing to raise awareness.   

“I don’t really know the specifics of how that is going to happen, but trust me, we’re planning it and making sure that we’re not losing that momentum going into the season,” Petree said. 

“If the athletes playing do it right, then they can use their platform to spread awareness about it,” Nolan said. 

Petree said the women’s basketball team will look to be consistent in its displays of solidarity throughout the upcoming season. 

“Whatever we feel is the most powerful symbolism that we can have, and that we can show in our platform as athletes,” Petree said. “So whether that has to do with kneeling or it has to do with wearing a T-shirt so that people know when they watch our games that we’re focused on this topic and not just on basketball. We’re focused on the life part.”

To Petree, today’s issues are rooted far deeper than any aisle could reach. These are issues that ought to to be addressed by every citizen, regardless of color, creed or partisanship. 

“It’s not a politics issue,” Petree said. “What’s going on isn’t about politics as far as making the right decision, it’s about human rights. It’s about people being treated equally and fairly. So as long as you stay along those guidelines and are advocating for people to be treated equally, you can’t go wrong … the problem is when we don’t ask and when we don’t seek information and don’t seek to educate ourselves because that makes us complacent. It’s like an ‘ignorance is bliss’ kind of mindset, when we all know that ignorance really isn’t bliss.”

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