Memphis Athletics creates group to tackle diversity and social justice issues

Memphis athletics creates group to tackle diversity and social justice issues

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Following the death of George Floyd by a police officer, athletes, coaches and organizations across the country realized the power in their voice and platform to promote change. At the University of Memphis, a group of leaders and student-athletes was created to enact change and make the Memphis experience more inclusive for everyone.

“400 years is not going to change in four months," Memphis Associate Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Welfare Marlon Dechausay said.

However, over the past four months a lot has been addressed. In June, a group of 11 coaches, student-athletes and administrators created UMADE: University of Memphis Athletics for Diversity & Equality. A group designed to dive deeper into the social issues in our country and on the U of M campus.

“You sort of realize, we’re missing the boat here, we’re really missing the boat on just being as inclusive as we think we are,” Dechausay said.

UMADE has taken a holistic approach. It looks at the number of minorities in leadership positions, coaches and hiring practices. Only two African Americans hold positions at the administrative level and Men’s Basketball head coach Penny Hardaway is the only Black head coach. UMADE is making sure the candidate pools are diverse in color and gender. Now, looking beyond their networking pools and where they can post jobs to reach more minority candidates.

“We feel like if we add more minorities and more women, then we have a greater chance of having more diversity in our department,” Dechausay added. He’s worked in athletics for 15 years. He says he’s never seen student-athletes use their platforms like they are now. Tigers Football offensive lineman Obinna Eze is one of the student-athlete leaders in UMADE.

“I see that the things we talk about are getting implemented so when we talk about something it doesn’t take three weeks to get it going around campus, it happens,” Eze said.

For example, the Campus Unity Walks and Black Lives Matter stickers on football helmets were student-led. Memphis was the first school to announce the BLM stickers that was then adopted by several other programs. Leadership backed the players the entire time.

“[Athletics Director Laird Veatch] has made it a priority to be available for things like this and that says a lot," Eze said. “So things are moving forward. I can tell you that for sure, things are moving forward.”

UMADE has set up a day for the athletic department to discuss voter education. On October 19th, teams will learn about what their vote means and how to exercise their civic duty between presidential election cycles. These discussions will continue for years to come.

“When we started it was sort of like it was very awkward. Right," Dechausay explained. "This is not easy stuff, these are not easy conversations and now moving forward we can have better dialogue.”

Each sport has a UMADE representative and this group will be formed each year to continue conversations and continue to make change. Once the pandemic is over the hope is to take their work into the community to spread their message and bring more opportunities to minority groups in Memphis.

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