Huddle Up and Listen: The voices behind the Illini-led protest supporting the Black Lives Matter movement

Sports

CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Kendrick Green walked alongside his teammates, leading hundreds of people down the streets of Champaign on Monday. The Illinois football player spent days making phone calls, and getting the word out on social media to organize a protest to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Green had full support from head coach Lovie Smith and athletic director Josh Whitman who also joined in the march. Several others from the Illini community attended, including head coaches Brad Underwood and Janet Rayfield. Athletes from the women’s volleyball and men’s basketball team showed up to show their support as well. One of the biggest messages from protesters that day, was to show the community they’re more than just Illini athletes.

“Just with everything going on right now, it feels like a time to put our attention to the real problems in the world and change things,” said Illini wide receiver Casey Washington. The Illinois football team was supposed to practice on Monday, but decided to turn this focus away from the field and fight for social change.

They marched from Grange Grove, to the Champaign Police department, where they knelt in solidarity to remember the victims of police brutality. With the recent events surrounding the killing of George Floyd, and the shooting of Jacob Blake, Green, Nate Hobbs, Milo Eifler, and others addressed the crowd, speaking out about racism, and social injustice.

While addressing the crowd, Hobbs shared a powerful message about unity: “That’s how we stop systemic racism. That’s how we stop getting people killed for the color of their skin and everything else, all that hatred. Love will always be stronger than hatred. And this right here is love.”

For Hobbs, the fight for equality hits close to home. The Louisville, KY native marched in several protests in his hometown, to help bring Breonna Taylor to justice, who was fatally shot by police officers in March.

The fight for equality doesn’t end at the protest. Green, Washington, and Hobbs said they will continue to use their platforms to fight for social change. Lovie Smith has publicly encouraged his players to take their protest to the polls. Green said he he’s encouraging his teammates and others to vote in the upcoming presidential election.

“I never realized the importance of being able to vote in our country until coach Smith really sat down and broke it down to us,” said Green. “All this protesting is cool, but if you’re out here, are you voting? That’ll make a real difference.”

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