At the MSU vs. Wisconsin football game on Sept. 24, Spartan players Delton Williams, Kenney Lyke and Gabe Sherrod raised their fists during Star-Spangled Banner to protest racism.
During the next game six other players joined in protest.
It was not the first time that MSU football players have used their platform to advocate for the equal rights of African-Americans. In the 1960s, Michigan State head football coach Duffy Daugherty was one of the first college coaches to recruit African-Americans for his program.
“Sixty years ago with Martin Luther King it was the same thing,” sophomore safety Khari Willis said. “They made a difference and so can our protests.”
Until the integration of African-Americans into Daugherty’s predominantly white football program, it was rare to see a football player of color on a northern team. Although allowed to play on the team, players still experienced racism, which led to several football players boycotting spring practice in 1968.
Michigan State’s history of racial diversity in athletics has led to the creation of the Multicultural Program for student-athletes.
Reggie Ferrell, a senior track and field athlete at MSU, is the president of the multicultural program. The program is a student-run organization that aims to make student-athletes aware of the social issues surrounding them.
“Our goal is to create the opportunity for student-athletes to become the most well-rounded, informed and socially aware that they can be,” Ferrell said.
The organization hosts monthly meetings called “Spartan Talks,” where student-athletes are invited to discuss current events in athletics and social issues.
A recent event included a discussion of the protest movement started by San Franscisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. On Aug. 26, Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem before the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers took the field. His protest inspired at athletes on professional, minor league, collegiate and youth sports teams — including the football players at MSU — to follow suit.
“I think that many people find the Kapernick situation empowering,” said Shelby Allen, a junior on the track and field team. “I think that more people will follow suit now that they see that there are more people behind them.”
Allen’s statement is one that many of the other student-athletes at the meeting agreed with.
“The point of the protests is to be seen,” said Taylor Hopp, a sophomore member of the track and field team. “We want people to know what we’re talking about and get them to start talking about it even if they don’t agree with it.”