STATESBORO, Ga. (WTOC) - Thursday evening, student athletes from Georgia Southern marched to call attention to national issues like social justice and racial equality.
Many of the players have already been a part of local marches and demonstrations. They’re following the incidents we’ve seen around the country. But for Georgia Southern football players, all they have to do is look in their own huddle.
Several players joined in a march back in June in downtown Statesboro. Even then, they referred back to an incident where Eagles quarterback Shai Werts was wrongfully arrested while driving through a small town in South Carolina. He was charged with drug possession, but completely cleared a short time later.
Shai Werts was recently named one of five Georgia Southern team captains and as the star quarterback - he’s one of the most visible Eagles on this team.
“I’m still dealing with some things. Stuff like that don’t just go away overnight. That whole ordeal was very traumatic,” said Werts.
But the memories of his arrest still linger. The Eagle quarterback says the death of George Floyd and events since take him back to that night in Saluda County.
“Replaying that night, how things could’ve been worse. It just brings up the whole stop, being in jail. All that,” said Werts.
Since his arrest, Werts says his voice and platform have grown. He says he intends to use it for change. Thursday’s march is a part of that and Werts says he’ll continue to advocate in the future.
Werts and the Eagles also elected not to practice last Friday. Instead the team met to discuss their feelings on matters of social injustice.
Head coach Chad Lunsford said he felt that meeting helped the team grow.
Some of the students we spoke with Thursday say they’re glad to see their classmates using their platform to address issues away from sports.
“It’s very important because people know who they are, so it makes is easier for people to hear what we have to say,” said Nathaniel Stokes II, GSU student.
The march in June came partly in reaction to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota.
Players hope to use their notoriety to bring attention to what they feel are important social issues.
“They can use their power for good, like LeBron James and others are doing, I believe they should. They’re not just mere ball players,” said Nicholas Fields, GSU Student.
Student-athletes who organized this march worked with university police on their route and other details to help keep things peaceful and keep marchers safe.
The university’s police chief says they want students to know they’re supporting them.
“It helps them understand that that’s what our job is, to give them a safe environment where they can not only study, learn, and go to school, but to speak out and use their voices on issues that they feel are important to them,” said Chief Laura McCullough.
The chief says she plans to be there - either walking with the marchers or jumping out to direct traffic at an intersection. We’re expecting university president Dr. Kyle Marrero to be there as well as several of the team coaches too.
Head Coach Chad Lunsford says he’s had to listen a lot over the past few months to learn what about his players’ experiences and their stories.
He says that’s one of the big things he’s taken away of late and especially from last week’s team meeting.
“There’s guys on our football team that are hurting. There’s examples in their lives. There’s examples in their families lives. There’s things when they see these things and they hear these things, they feel them,” said Lunsford.
Don’t expect these movements to be gone when the season kicks off in two Saturdays. The NCAA will allow players to wear patches to honor causes, such as social issues, this season.