‘The world is in a crazy spot:’ Iowa State football is ready for impactful change

Braxton Lewis (left) watches as Lawrence White (right) makes a tackle against a Drake University football player Dec. 1, 2018. The Cyclones won 27-24.

Matt Belinson

Iowa State football opens its season in less than two weeks against Louisiana in Jack Trice Stadium, the start of what will surely be one of, if not the craziest, seasons of college football in history.

But when representatives from Iowa State football spoke with the media Friday, football-talk was put on the back-burner.

And with plenty of reason.

In recent months, the United States has once again been split in pieces following the aftermath of police shootings of unarmed Black men, thus reopening the age-old issue of racism and racial oppression. Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations have taken place in nearly every city in the United States, including Ames and at Iowa State University following the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The shooting of Blake at the hands of police certainly was not the tipping point, with names like Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery all being prime examples of those who were killed within the last five months alone. And the list goes longer than those names. 

Those incidents coupled with years of systemic oppression faced by the African American, Latino and Asian American community have found its way into the sports world, with NBA and MLB players taking stands, including sitting out regular season and playoff games to show their eagerness and frustration to see real change take place in America.

And it’s not just professional athletes who have made vocal stands in honor of those killed unjustly by police.

Football teams from Oklahoma University, Baylor University and many others in the Big 12 Conference all either left or postponed practice Thursday and Friday to make team demonstrations to make a statement on where they stand when it comes to the continued mistreatment by police forces.

Players and coaches from Iowa State football have witnessed all of the unrest from the public and the subsequent responses from athletes and are working to start making impactful change within Ames as well as themselves as a team.

“The world right now is in a crazy spot, it makes me frustrated, disappointed, but I think we are all doing a good job, especially here at Iowa State trying to find solutions,” redshirt senior Lawrence White said Friday. “I gotta give thanks to Coach [Matt] Campbell for letting us voice our opinions, it gives us open dialogue for our team and we did that when the George Floyd situation happened and I think that was very beneficial for our program and our players to really get an understanding of where certain players are coming from and just to hear everybody out.

“As a team we are coming up with some ideas and I want to keep that to us but a lot of people have some great points and it’s exciting to hear everyone’s ideas of what we should do.”

Growing up in Bakersfield, California, White said he has firsthand experience when it comes to issues with police in Black neighborhoods. As a criminal justice major, White wants to return to his community someday and work with kids who are growing up where he once lived. But until then, White said he has had honest conversations with teammates and coaches about where he and some of his teammates are coming from on the topic of police brutality.

Outside of White, Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell made a public showing at an Ames Black Lives Matter protest outside of Ames City Hall on June 2, along with a handful of players.

For Campbell, the last five months have been “a powerful time” for members of the Iowa State football program to have opportunities to educate, grow and empathize with one another on tough issues.

Campbell said Friday that Iowa State football has made no official plans as a team to protest or have a demonstration but said conversations have been taking place within the walls of the team. Campbell would not share any specific details on what the conversations were and when a public stand may be taken.

“I think our challenge within our walls is so how do we grow? How do we make a difference?” Campbell said. “How do we continue to stand together and empower change and I think that’s where I think some of the things you are seeing on a national level are really empowering that people are out there making change and making a difference.”

One of the ways Campbell and Iowa State football is actively looking to create change is through the voting process, specifically, getting every player for Iowa State registered to vote. Players have rallied around the idea of voting and Campbell said the goal is to become educated on the issues that come with a presidential election. Campbell said voting is the easiest way to create change.

The mission of getting players registered to vote comes on the heels of the NBA announcing all NBA arenas will be made into polling places on Election Day in November.

“A big part of our program is we focus on development and growth. That has nothing to do with football, it has everything to do with every aspect of life,” Campbell said. “Hopefully by the end of next week every one of our guys will be registered to vote and then educate our young men on the topics and why voting is important, how to make a great choice, what does that mean, what does that look like.”