In an effort to promote social justice on a national stage, more than half of UCLA’s football team will wear one-word messages on the back of their jerseys when the team opens the season at Colorado on Saturday.
The players picked from five messages — Justice, Love, Peace, Equality and Unity — to place on their jerseys where their last names usually go.
Other college football teams, including Clemson, have adopted similar messages on their jerseys after the NCAA said it would permit such a move, although few, if any, teams have had as many players participate as the Bruins are expected to during their nationally televised game against the Buffaloes.
“I think it’s admirable because they’re trying to use their platform to make an impact, so I met with them and listened to their motivation,” UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said Wednesday. “Ultimately, I supported it because this is something that represents UCLA. This is what UCLA is about.”
The idea originated with UCLA’s squad leaders, who brought the concept to coach Chip Kelly before he sought approval from Jarmond. Players who opted not to participate will wear their normal game jerseys.
The jerseys featuring messages will be worn for just the opener as part of UCLA’s seven-game, conference-only schedule.
“It’s a subject that I think everyone understands that we could use our platform to help and to help make this country better,” Kelly said last week while speaking generally about social justice, “so it’s something we totally support.”
Colorado has its own social justice messaging planned, the Buffaloes expected to wear pregame warmups and a helmet decal with “CUNITED” to play off CU being the school’s block logo.
Social injustices have increasingly angered college players in recent months after the killing of Black citizens George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by white police officers and the resulting Black Lives Matter movement. UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson posted on Twitter this summer that he wanted to put “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” on his jersey.
UCLA athletes have long championed social causes before and after their time on campus. Bill Walton once laid across Wilshire Boulevard to protest the Vietnam War and Lewis Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) traveled to Cleveland to support Muhammad Ali after the boxer had been stripped of his heavyweight title and faced charges of draft dodging for his refusal to participate in the Vietnam War.
After they left UCLA, Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Kenny Washington helped integrate the NFL and tennis star Arthur Ashe crusaded against apartheid in South Africa.
“I think UCLA has always been a place for social issues to be challenged and progressed and it’s no different during this time,” quarterback Chase Griffin said recently. “Luckily I chose a home where the people by and large are for that and always have been and this institution has always been a beacon for that and we’re not stopping anytime soon.”
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