MBB, WBB ready for Equality Weekend

Feb. 16, 2017

By Zac Ellis

On campus in NashvilleStephanie White knows just how transformative a student-athlete’s college career can be. Vanderbilt’s first-year women’s basketball coach is tasked with building her Commodores program into an SEC contender. But White also understands a coach’s primary responsibility is to teach and mold student-athletes, on and off the court.

That objective enhances the significance of Vanderbilt’s Equality Weekend, a celebration of Black History Month that takes place during Saturday’s men’s basketball game against South Carolina and Sunday’s women’s basketball game against Ole Miss. To White, the weekend serves as an opportunity to present a lesson that transcends sports.

“You bring a little bit of awareness, and they take it and run with it,” White said of her players. “We want to create future leaders.”

The Commodores will honor 21 of Nashville's leading civil rights figures across both basketball games with “Equality Weekend” in celebration of Black History Month, and both teams will don special uniforms built exclusively for Vanderbilt by Nike. This week many Commodore student-athletes say they covet the responsibility of honoring those who fought for social equality.

“I think anytime you can give thanks and acknowledge those who paved the way for you, it’s just a good opportunity to say thank you,” junior forward Jeff Roberson said. “It kind of reminds you that you’re still building on what they started.”

Vanderbilt will recognize each honoree and/or his or her family before and during both basketball games at Memorial Gymnasium on Saturday and Sunday. The 21 honorees include a civil rights attorney, a newspaper reporter, a former state senator, a former Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court and many more historic figures. The full list of honorees will be released later this week.

David Williams II, Vanderbilt’s Vice Chancellor for Athletics and University Affairs and Athletics Director, took on the task of framing the fight for equality and civil rights through the prism of sports. A college locker room is often a microcosm of society, one not limited by race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. Vanderbilt student-athletes see one another as teammates first, and they understand the impact sports can have on an evolving society.

“I feel like sports have kind of been a platform of social change a little bit, or at least the first place that represents change that’s happening,” senior center Luke Kornet said. “A lot of times, the first step towards equality happens on the field or on the court.”

“We always say sports and basketball is a platform that we can use to influence others and impact our community,” added redshirt senior guard Minta Spears. “To have a game dedicated to the people who have helped in the civil rights movement, and with the history of this country, it’s huge. It’s just an honor to be a part of it.”

VIDEO: Coach Drew, Coach White, Williams discuss 'Equality Weekend'

Senior forward Marqu’es Webb admitted she feels a sense of responsibility heading into Equality Weekend. When she glances into the stands during Vanderbilt games at Memorial Gym, she always notices younger fans wearing black and gold. Those kids often see Commodore student-athletes as larger-than-life figures. With Equality Weekend, Webb and her teammates have a chance to represent something bigger than themselves.

“I think that’s a really, really, really big part of it,” Webb said. “Just the example we can set for future generations and how we want this country to be and how we want society to be based on how we treat each other. Sports can be the perfect platform for so much diversity and so much equality.”

Vanderbilt men's basketball tips off against South Carolina on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 7:30 p.m. CT. The Commodore women will face Ole Miss on Sunday at 2 p.m. CT.


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