Ole Miss, Auburn show team unity
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
Braylon Sanders, a Callaway High graduate and a senior on the Ole Miss football team, participated in a unity walk on Saturday afternoon on the school’s campus in Oxford.
Sanders, wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the word Unity, marched while holding a sign over his head that stated B.L.M. (Black Lives Matter).
College-football teams across the country have held marches in recent days as part of a nation-wide movement following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
Saturday’s unity walk at Ole Miss involved not only the football coaches and players, but representatives from various other sports at the school.
Lane Kiffin, the first-year head coach at Ole Miss, was supportive of the effort and marched alongside his players.
“This is a serious issue that we’re dealing with as a country,” Kiffin said. “Today’s unity walk came up from a lot of different people, but partly from listening to the players and their concerns and listening throughout the week. This is about taking action. This is a step in the right direction. We’re walking to promote change and to help end injustice that is occurring throughout our nation everywhere.”
The walk, which began on the school’s track, ended on the football practice field where a number of players and coaches spoke.
One of the players, senior defensive end Ryan Anderson, said “we are here because racism is here. We are here because police brutality is here, because systemic oppression is here all across America, including Mississippi, including right here in Oxford. So my challenge to you is to fight it.”
Anderson added that “I’m not doing using my voice. I want everyone else to know that they can stand up. It’s time for that.”
Sanders is in his fourth season at Ole Miss, and he’s one of the team’s leading returning wide receivers.
During the previous three seasons, Sanders has 30 catches for 529 yards.
Also over the weekend, Auburn University head football coach Gus Malzahn and a number of players participated in a Black Lives Matter protest.
Malzahn, the players, and other coaches and administrators from Auburn participated in a march that began at Toomer’s Corner and went to the Auburn Police Department.
During a press conference last week, Malzahn said he’s had a “heavy heart the last few weeks after watching the recent racial injustices on video, most recently George Floyd, which is completely unacceptable and inhumane. I’ve been not sure how to really handle or respond so I decided to listen. I met with players, I met with coaches, I did that separately, and I asked them to share their heart and their feelings with me, and they did. It was very emotional, it was very heartfelt and there were some tears with both groups.”
Malzahn added that “bottomline is I’ve got a team and staff that’s hurting. I think they’re frustrated and in some cases they’re scared, and that breaks my heart. This has given me really a new perspective. I wish I would of asked deeper questions sooner of before. This is not just Auburn football players and coaches, they’re a part of the Auburn family, and we’re here to help them be leaders for tomorrow. I told my team I’m committed to positive change as a leader. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like now, but I’m going to listen and I’m going to learn.”
There are four players on the Auburn football team with local ties, including Callaway High graduates Keiondre Jones, Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby and Tate Johnson, and former Troup High Tiger Kobe Hudson.
The Ole Miss and Auburn football teams both began summer conditioning on Monday after the players returned to campus last week.