Oct. 23, the University of Wisconsin football team took on the Illinois Fighting Illini to kick off the Big Ten’s 2020 football season. The Badgers featured a new helmet decal — the university crest — on the back of their helmets. Instead of the “W” in the crest being white, the “W” was black, showing both the school and team’s support for inclusion and unity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Illinois expressed their support more noticeably, wearing a large black “I” on their helmets, instead of the orange “I” which is typically featured as the main decal.
After seeing these decals, I was curious as to how the Badgers men’s basketball team was going to implement the same ideas into their program. Aleem Ford, a redshirt senior forward for the men’s basketball team, was generous enough to talk with me on the phone and share some insights as to how he and his teammates will pay tribute to BLM in their upcoming season.
Charlie Dern: “Have there been conversations held between the players and coaches about implementing the Black Lives Matter movement into your uniforms?”
Aleem Ford: “We’ve had a little group meeting between seven guys on the team with a coach, to sit down and talk, to really spread ideas. We float ideas around and bounce them off each other’s heads. We are definitely going to do something, whether it’s warm-up shirts, a message, or something.”
Ford noted that the main coach who is pushing for these meetings and ideas is Head Coach Greg Gard, who Ford said gave the players an open-floor meeting to communicate with each other their feelings and ideas.
The leaders on the team have not been quiet, Ford mentioned the names of the entire starting five, saying they have all been the most vocal, but that everybody has been doing their part.
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CD: “Has the basketball team been in contact with any players on the football team to communicate about different ways to show their support?”
AF: “We try to communicate for the most part … we have group chats and everything to keep each other on the same page. When we do try to do something, we try to make sure that we do that together.”
CD: “As an athlete, do you see yourself in a similar light as the NBA Bubble, with a larger platform to convey your message to the audience watching your games?”
AF: “Yeah for sure, at this university and in this program, we are all given a platform, especially with social media. It’s up to us to decide how we want to use that platform. I feel like there isn’t a better time to use this platform. We have guys that aren’t afraid of being vocal and showcasing their thoughts on the matters taking place.
We are able to reach out to thousands and thousands of people just by the click of a button … With basketball especially, we aren’t behind helmets. People are able to see that when we do stuff, it holds more weight and accountability. To me, that means a lot. I just want to make sure I can contribute in some way to help make change.”
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CD: “Were you in Madison or at home in Georgia when the protests broke out in downtown Madison this summer?”
AF: “I was home from about March to June, but I spent the rest of the time in Madison. I was able to experience it all in Madison, I got here right as it got hectic. It gave me a perspective really, it was eye-opening. Being in quarantine gave me more time to think about everything and to learn more. My experience in Madison helped me a lot.”
When asked what the coaches were telling the players during all the protests, Ford noted that the coaches cared about the safety of the players first, but that if somebody wanted to protest, they had no objections, just as long as they were making smart decisions.
The men’s basketball season is rapidly approaching, which means we are closer to seeing how this team pays tribute to BLM. No matter what they decide to do, from Gard to Ford to the last man on the roster, the program will be united as one in support.