Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard found himself in an unenviable position Monday afternoon when he appeared in a video alongside head coach Mike Gundy.
On one side was the burgeoning empowerment movement, where black student-athletes are standing up and speaking out in numbers rarely seen before. On the other was the decades-long college football power structure that dictates those athletes need to shrug off slights, whether they be from coaches or the name on the institution.
Before we dive into the video, some background:
Earlier in the day, Hubbard tweeted a photo of Gundy wearing an OAN (One America News) T-shirt. "I will not stand for this," Hubbard wrote. "This is completely insensitive to everything going on in society, and it's unacceptable."
I will not stand for this.. This is completely insensitive to everything going on in society, and it's unacceptable. I will not be doing anything with Oklahoma State until things CHANGE. https://t.co/psxPn4Khoq— Chuba Hubbard (@Hubbard_RMN) June 15, 2020
OAN is a far-right television news network often cited by President Donald Trump. One of its anchors recently referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as a "farce." Some might say that categorization of the movement is a "difference of opinion," but it's not. It's a flat-out lie. The Black Lives Matter movement promotes equality in the world for people like Chuba Hubbard, and myself.
Within hours of Hubbard's initial tweet, former Oklahoma State players publicly supported the Heisman Trophy contender, who was the nation's leading rusher last season. Then came statements from Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis and athletic director Mike Holder.
Which leads us back to the video, which was posted soon after the statements by school officials.
Hubbard and Gundy stood together at a socially safe distance. Gundy didn't apologize or say much of anything, beyond talking about unspecified "changes" that needed to be made. Hubbard followed by saying he "went about it the wrong way by tweeting."
It was frustrating to watch, because we've seen this movie before. It was a reminder that while players are doing the right thing by speaking out, the fight for true cultural and structural change in college sports is a marathon, and not a sprint.
Change is coming I promise you that. pic.twitter.com/wTGHtByh3N— Chuba Hubbard (@Hubbard_RMN) June 15, 2020
Players, like many black people across America, are not settling for "good enough" and no longer looking the other way when it comes to racism or injustices. The players' realization of the power they can have lies within this movement, and it has been on display all over the country. That's why, despite seeing black student-athletes being put in this situation before, Hubbard's initial tweet made an important impact.
We aren't talking about Hubbard going to social media and airing out Gundy over a playcall or the way a practice is run. We're talking about a human rights issue. We're talking about a picture Gundy shared that was public enough to end up on social media for Hubbard to see and react to, a picture that shows the coach taking the wrong side on the issue. Gundy had previously praised OAN back in April with regards to the coronavirus pandemic, claiming they "just report the news."
And Hubbard saying he should have done things differently, when he didn't do anything wrong, doesn't make his stance any less important. It was a big deal for him to do what he did, because it led former Oklahoma State players to also speak out and showed it was about a lot more than just a T-shirt. Current NFL players Justice Hill and A.J. Green showed support for Hubbard, and former OSU wide receiver and linebacker LC Greenwood said in a now-deleted tweet, "I was called a hood rat and thug on multiple occasions being threatened to be sent back home all because of wearing a Durag and sleeveless shirts." Greenwood entered the transfer portal in late January.
On Tuesday, Hubbard further explained his motivations, saying he "was never wrong for saying what I said."
June 16, 2020
Hubbard mentioned holding Gundy accountable, and after the coach's initial response, Gundy issued an apology in a video tweeted by Oklahoma State on Tuesday evening. "I had a great meeting with our team today. Our players expressed their feelings as individuals and as team members," he said. "They helped me see, through their eyes, how the T-shirt affected their hearts. Once I learned how that network felt about Black Lives Matter, I was disgusted, and it was completely unacceptable to me.
"I want to apologize to all members of our team, former players, and their families, for the pain and discomfort that has been caused over the last two days. Black lives matter to me. Our players matter to me. These meetings with our team have been eye-opening and will result in positive changes for Oklahoma State football."
Hubbard's words led Gundy to admit his wrongs, and publicly say that black lives matter. Whether the coach was sincere or not, Hubbard got him to budge when he ordinarily wouldn't have. That's a pretty good sequel to this movie we've seen before, and we'll start seeing different versions of it elsewhere.
Harry Lyles Jr. dissects what kind of actionable change is expected at Oklahoma State in wake of Mike Gundy's apology for wearing an OAN shirt.
Hubbard's scenario is one of the most recent examples of players feeling more empowerment to speak out.
Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond has been outspoken in favor of a removal of a monument on the College Station campus that depicts Lawrence "Sul" Ross, a former Confederate general, Texas governor and A&M president. A protest in favor of the statue's removal because of Ross' racism was held, as well as a counter protest in favor of the statue. Counter protesters had signs that read "Aggie traditions matter" in response to the "Black Lives Matter" signs.
Frankly, "tradition" is often used as a mask for racist beliefs. What's happening at Texas A&M is a clear-cut example of such.
At Texas, athletes have requested the removal of "The Eyes of Texas" as the school song and changes to names of campus buildings to not honor individuals who had racist pasts. Athletes said that without the changes, they "will not be participating in the recruitment of incoming players or other alumni events."
At different points along this marathon, we've seen results when that wasn't always the case in the past. Many former Iowa players expressed issues with now-former strength coach Chris Doyle. Former Iowa defensive back Emmanuel Rugamba, who transferred to Miami (Ohio), alleged two instances involving Doyle when he mocked black athletes and, as a result, "made you walk around the football facility on eggshells ... and caused anxiety that could be unbearable at times with your dreams and career on the line." Now, Doyle is gone, and Iowa removed any limitations for players on Twitter.
If we go back to 2015, Missouri players proved there is power in numbers. When a group of football players joined students who were upset at how the president of the university system handled complaints about racism, it made it impossible for the school's administration to ignore the protests. Threatening to not play a game that would cost the school $1 million was the last card they had to play before forcing the school to fold. The players experienced serious backlash, but the president resigned within days.
This is how movements create results -- a united body that is loud will force the right people to take action, and if you can also get into the pockets of the system, well, you'll get what you want. We're seeing that right now in America, where showing support for black Americans is better for business than even just being neutral. So, even if players aren't threatening to sit out a game that's going to cost a lot of money, being collectively unhappy with the way that things are, and voicing that, will bring about change in different ways. Because, at some point, the unhappiness is bad for business.
It's different in comparison to when Wyoming banned 14 black players for asking to wear black armbands for an upcoming game in 1969. College football has grown so much and creates so much money now -- without black athletes, there is no game.
Whether it seems big or small to you, athletes taking a stand for change is important. In the past, the fear of retribution in relation to, "Are things good enough for me?" has kept athletes from speaking up. And hey, maybe this will help players make some kind of progress elsewhere, such as expanded name, image and likeness opportunities, more benefits, and a piece of the revenue they help generate.
It shouldn't be on black student-athletes to help make change in America. The pledge of allegiance to the flag states there should be "liberty and justice for all." That simply hasn't been the case in the 243-year history of the United States. The fight for black freedom and justice in America has been, and still is, a work in progress. But the fact that college athletes can actually institute meaningful changes, no matter how small, matters. The progress matters.
And don't be surprised when these issues arise at another school. Many people try to find comfort in saying, "Things like this shouldn't happen, it's 2020." The reality is, America has never fully resolved its issues with racism. College football players are illustrating that, and taking it upon themselves to fix it, whether you like it or not.