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The Undefeated, University of Florida present town hall discussion on sports and social justice

Colin Kaepernick’s future and how athletes use social media lead conversation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Artis Gilmore had little to no voice during a tumultuous time at the beginning of his hall of fame basketball career. Then, he was a 20-something black man facing obstacles people read about in history books today.

Being told to eat in a kitchen instead of sitting down in a dining room because of the color of his skin or just carrying the weight of being among the first black college basketball players in Florida, only contributed to what Gilmore described as an “intense environment with a number of racial things taking place.”

But Gilmore was used to being uncomfortable – standing at 7-foot-2 and shopping for shoes in a size 19.

“We want to leave a footprint, so people will remember something, a contribution,” said Gilmore, who played at Jacksonville University from 1969-1971. “Now, you look at these size 19s here, I think I’m going to leave a pretty large footprint.”

Gilmore shared his story as part of a town hall hosted by The Undefeated and the University of Florida on Tuesday in Gainesville, Florida, part of the 2019 UF Wasdin Speaker Series. Gilmore was one of an array of athletes and media personalities who used the forum to discuss inequality, social injustice and how athletes affect change through social media.

Retired NBA player Etan Thomas, Marcus Pollard (Jacksonville Jaguars director of player development, youth football), professional softball player A.J. Andrews and three-time Olympian and world champion gold medalist Michelle Carter, among others, participated in a series of discussions before a packed crowd of 230 community members and students at the Harn Museum of Art.

How athletes find a platform for their voice carried much of the conversation throughout the night. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick’s name was at the center of much of that discussion.

Pollard, a former NFL tight end, and Thomas were part of the conversation on how athletes expand their influence beyond the field.

The conversation flowed through many topics but hovered over Kaepernick’s decision to protest racial injustice and police brutality in 2016 by kneeling during the national anthem and the fallout since that time.

During the panel, news broke that the NFL would invite all 32 teams to a private workout for Kaepernick in Atlanta on Saturday.

“I don’t understand why they were waiting this long to be able to do it because of what it symbolizes,” Thomas said. “The fact that he’s getting a workout is great news, so we’ll see what happens.”

The conversation also led to another poignant note about the progressivism of the NBA versus the NFL.

Pollard cited rules the NFL has about uniforms on the field – no sweatshirts during warm-ups, socks pulled up to a certain height, pants legs pulled down a certain length, no wearing jerseys out, etc.

“We have all of these limitations when players take the field about them showing a little bit of individuality when the NFL is like, ‘We don’t do that here,’ ” Pollard said. “So, to me, I think a lot of times when an NFL player gets painted and trapped in this box, this is it, this is all you can do.”

Athletes still find ways to connect and express their opinions. Social media often becomes that gateway.

Alanis Thames, who is a UF senior sports journalism student interning at the Miami Herald, said she sees athletes using their voices on social media more prominently in the years to come.

“I definitely see athletes using their voices more, using their Twitter or Instagram accounts more, understanding that they are brands and they control their brand,” she said. “And it’s definitely moving in that direction.

“They’re not afraid to control their own narrative and to understand their worth and understand that they have power as athletes, whether it’s a student-athlete, whether it’s a professional athlete, and we’re seeing that now moving in that direction more and more.”

Mari Faiello is a senior journalism student at the University of Florida. She used to just buy Starbucks drinks, but now she keeps a running tab on Snapchat of how the baristas never fill up the entire cup.