STATESBORO, Ga. (WTOC) - A peaceful protest on Saturday in Statesboro, with demonstrators marching from the Bulloch County Courthouse to the Statesboro Police Department, carrying a cross with the names of black men and women killed.
The protest was to call for an end to racial violence and police brutality. Many taking a stand against racial injustice, among them, some big names from the Georgia Southern athletics department.
“You just have to do what’s right," said Anita Howard, the head women’s basketball coach at Georgia Southern. "We at Georgia Southern always say, Erk Russell, ‘just do right’ and it really is just that simple, and I think these movements and these marches and protests, peaceful protests are speaking about just doing what is right.”
As a coach, and a mom, Howard said she felt she needed to show up and speak out.
“As a woman of color, and as the first African American female to head the Georgia Southern women’s basketball program, I thought it was my duty. It’s my obligation to come out here and show my support because black lives matter. That’s what we’re here for. You know, every night I pray to God, you know, I ask that he protect us from my complexion. We shouldn’t need protection for our complexion, and that’s kind of what this movement is about, and so, I’m thankful for Statesboro allowing us to do this. I think it says a lot. This is my community where we live, and so, to be out here and see all these young people, and these young faces, and the diverse crowd, it’s a humbling experience.”
Eagles football players Treun Pace, David Spaulding, Derrick Canteen, Gerald Green, AJ Watkins, and KJ Hood were also there and had an impactful message.
“I wish they would love us the same way they do on the football field, like it’s a different love when you’re suited up being on the field, like for your college- everybody loves you,” Green, a redshirt freshman running back, explained.
Head football coach Chad Lunsford admitted he feels like he has a lot to learn, but he wanted to let his players know that he supports them.
“We get caught in such a bubble of coaching football, trying to win football games," Lunsford said. "We’re building great men, but sometimes because we’re in that bubble, we’re not talking about the world events, current events that’s going on and affecting our guys, and I just want to continue to grow as a head coach and help them.”
Lunsford took a firm stance on racism.
“Our team right now, there’s a lot of hurt people. There’s a lot of angry people that, like, I don’t understand it being 43-year-old white man, and you know, it’s different for me, and obviously I just want us to continue to learn. I want to support our guys, I want to support black lives matter. You know, I hate racism, I hate violence, and you know, I think this is just a way that shows my stance for that, and you know, I just think it’s important that we work from the inside out and with our football team where I’m at on it.”
The players hope that the conversation continues; both inside and outside their locker room.
“It’s not really a big topic of any conversation, just across the board with anybody," said Watkins, a sophomore defensive end. "Nobody really likes to talk on this subject until it happens, you know, so I think it would be better for everybody to get that conversation going.”
According to the NCAA, in 2019 49-percent of division one college football players were black. They’re learning that with their athletic gifts, comes a platform, and the current movement in the United States is bigger than sports.
“I’d be a fool to say I didn’t fear for my players, but at the end of the day, the coaching staff at Georgia Southern wants all of our players to be safe," said Dimitri Donald, Georgia Southern’s wide receivers coach. "You know, we’ll do everything we can to let them use their platform and have a voice on this particular issue.”
And their voice says to love all.