Kentucky basketball forward Keion Brooks Jr. said he backs a push by Black faculty members in the school's African American and Africana Studies department to change the name of Rupp Arena. The group recently requested the change, saying Adolph Rupp's legacy is tied to a history of racism and discrimination.
Brooks, a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches Player Development Coalition, averaged 4.5 PPG last season. He said he's still gathering more information about Rupp but stated that he supports a name change.
"Being honest, I haven't educated myself well enough on Adolph Rupp or just the whole situation at hand to really give you my thoughts on it," said Brooks, who is also a member of the SEC Council on Racial Equality and Social Justice. "From what I do know, I would like to see a name change just basically because of what his name is and what that's connected to and what that kind of represents. I would like to see a name change."
In June, the group of Black faculty members at Kentucky listed their request about Rupp Arena's name as part of a comprehensive set of action items submitted to the university's leadership. Per the letter, Rupp's name has "come to stand for racism and exclusion in [Kentucky] athletics and alienates Black students, fans, and attendees."
In an exclusive statement to ESPN on Friday, the same group of Black faculty members commended Brooks and called him a key leader. The group has also asked John Calipari and his team to meet with it to discuss the arena's name.
"The faculty of the African American [and] Africana Studies Program and the Commonwealth Institute of Black Studies offer our support to Keion Brooks, Jr.," the statement said. "He courageously supported our call to change the name of Rupp Arena. Mr. Brooks has made this stand knowing full well the vitriol he will face from a segment of University of Kentucky sports fans. Mr. Brooks is already a leader on these issues as a member of the [SEC Council on Racial Equality and Social Justice]. We welcome Mr. Brooks, his teammates, Coach Calipari, and his staff to meet with us to educate him and others further about why Rupp's name should be removed from the arena. Finally, we encourage Mr. Brooks, student-athletes, and students interested in these issues to consider enrolling in our Race and Sports class in Spring 2021."
Rupp, who won four national titles at Kentucky, famously fielded an all-white starting five in a loss to a Texas Western team with an all-Black starting five in the 1966 national title game.
Earlier this week, Calipari said he was open to a conversation about the arena's name but also suggested he doesn't anticipate learning anything new that would compel him to agree that it should be changed.
"Some people agree, some people are not going to agree," he said during a Zoom call on Wednesday to announce the hiring of former Indiana assistant Bruiser Flint. "For me, personally, knowing the family ... What's out there that tells me it's something different?"
Rupp, a polarizing figure in life and death, has been accused of making racist statements and failing to integrate his program by recruiting Black players until the end of his tenure. Within the fan base, however, those accusations are often challenged and disputed.
Earlier this year, athletic director Mitch Barnhart said the arena's name should remain.
"It has to be Rupp Arena," he said at a news conference earlier this year. "When you're recruiting, when you're having teams come in here to play and people come in here, this is Rupp Arena. It's set apart from all other places. ... This one's been this way for almost 50 years, and it can't change."
Brooks said he's focused on effecting change amid the current climate following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, this month, both from encounters with police.
The NABC group he's tied to intends to empower college athletes and elevate their collective voice surrounding critical issues.
"The NABC stands in solidarity with today's actions from NBA, WNBA and MLB players," the group said in a statement this week after multiple leagues followed the NBA's lead and postponed games. "The shooting of Jacob Blake is yet another example of the police brutality and systemic racism that our country has tolerated for far too long. We all must do our part to demand justice and change, and that starts with continuing important discussions with our teams about impacting our own communities. We commend the NBA, WNBA and MLB players for taking this powerful stand."
Brooks said the police shootings have made him fearful of how he would be treated in similar encounters, especially if he didn't play basketball for Kentucky. He said he feels like "we're being hunted."
"Violence that ... I don't even grasp how that makes sense," said Brooks, referencing the shooting of Blake. "I don't understand the concept of shooting somebody in the back seven times and their back is towards you."
On Thursday, members of Kentucky's football team walked out of practice to protest racial and social injustice, a day after NBA players boycotted games.
Brooks said Kentucky's basketball team has had conversations about making a statement, too. He wouldn't reveal the details of those plans, but he emphasized that Black athletes will refuse to remain silent in this critical moment.
"I think people have a difficult time separating the athlete from the sport that they play," Brooks said. "Just because I go and play basketball ... that does not mean I don't have morals and values and opinions and views on certain things. We have strong views on topics just like the fans do. ... They just want us to go out there, entertain them for an hour or two and shut up. But that's not going to work. That's not how this is."