UMass basketball players likely to show solidarity in protest

  • Donte Clark is one of several UMass basketball juniors discussing posible actions the team can take to show solidarity with athletes protesting violent actions against African Americans by police. Gazette file

  • Zach Coleman, a Dallas native, has helped lead discussions by the UMass basketball team’s juniors about showing solidarity with athletes nationwide who have protested during the national anthem to draw attention to African-American victims of violence involving police. AP file

@MattVautourDHG
Published: 10/5/2016 10:38:19 PM

AMHERST — The UMass men’s basketball players will likely make a gesture in solidarity with athletes nationwide who have protested during the national anthem to draw attention to African-American victims of violence involving police.

Zach Coleman, a Dallas native, and Donte Clark, who is from Charlotte, North Carolina, have seen police shooting incidents in their respective hometowns as well as nationwide.

They said the Minutemen have not decided yet what they will do. But in the team’s season opener against UMass-Lowell on Nov. 11 at the Mullins Center, Coleman and Clark said they expected players to do something.

Coleman, Clark and fellow juniors C.J. Anderson and Seth Berger have been discussing the topic. (The team has no senior players on scholarship.)

“Amongst myself, Donte, C.J. (Anderson) and Seth (Berger), it’s something we’ve talked about. We haven’t talked too much to the team about it, but it’s something we’ve thought about. It’s something we might take action with,” Coleman said. “We haven’t come up with what we want to do. I think it’s important to keep the conversation going. It’s a problem. It’s something that we’re dealing with every single day. I don’t know what can be done to make a change, but we should definitely keep the topic open and try to do something.”

Both UMass coach Derek Kellogg and athletic director Ryan Bamford said they would be supportive of whatever stand the players chose.

“I’m supportive of my players, 100 percent unequivocally. They’re a pretty good group of guys with good heads on their shoulders,” said Kellogg, who expects the team would talk more as the opener gets closer. “I’d back them with whatever stance they’d take on that and move forward from there.”

Bamford said he expects to talk to the players as well.

“We’re going to have some dialogue with them to understand if they have any concerns as we look at the social issues that are facing our nation,” he said. “We’re certainly supportive of their First Amendment rights, and we’re going to make sure they understand what those rights are and any repercussions if they do decide to enact those rights which is certainly up to them.”

“As a state institution, protecting those rights is important to us,” Bamford said. “We’ll educate them on some of the things they might encounter should they choose to do that and let them make the decision how they want to go forward.”

Both Clark and Coleman said any gesture is not aimed at disrespecting the Amherst Police. And both said they thought they had been treated fairly by that department.

“Amherst has been good. I don’t think there have really been any problems in Amherst. Here we should be fine,” Coleman said. “We have nothing against the police department here. they’ve been treating us fine. We have a good relationship with them. It wouldn’t be anything against the police officers here.”

Clark had a similar assessment of police interaction during his UMass experience.

“I don’t think it’s been too bad. I haven’t had a bad experience here. I’m good,” said Clark, who emphasized that not all police officers are to blame.

“It’s tough for good cops because they’re being portrayed as bad cops as well and being blamed for the mistakes of other cops.”

Kellogg has been proactive in reminding his players to not put themselves in position to get into trouble.

“Coach Kellogg always tells us to make sure we’re doing the right thing and not putting ourselves in a bad situation,” Clark said.

Sometimes that’s not enough.

“It’s something to be cautious about. It’s a tough topic because you can do the right thing and something still happens,” Coleman said. “I don’t know what you’re supposed to do. You just say your prayers and hopefully everything falls in place. I’ve never actually had any type of issues with police officers, but I understand the issue.”

Clark agreed.

“It’s concerning. Every time you get pulled over you think ‘Dang, let me make sure I say the right stuff.’ I don’t want to say anything to the dude and piss him off.”

The structure of UMass’ football pregame doesn’t have the players on the field during the anthem, making men’s and women’s basketball the first high profile opportunity for an athlete demonstration.

The recent activism among high-profile athletes, which was sparked by NBA players making statements at the ESPY awards and San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest has spurred athletes at all levels to get involved.

“It’s very inspiring. They’re showing that there are things bigger than their money or their brand,” Coleman said. “They’re worried more about people. I think it’s good to use your platform in the right way, to talk about things that are going on and things that really matter.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.




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