Stronger Together: Alabama football players use influence to spark change

This summer and fall, players and administrators have taken steps to keep student athletes engaged with social justice.


CW / Keely Brewer

Not long after Americans settled into the staticity of pandemic life, another brutal instance of police brutality shot to the top of the news. The police killing of George Floyd sparked a new wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the country, forcing companies, programs and universities to reckon with their racist histories or determine how to use their power in constructive ways.

The University of Alabama football team was no exception, and players and coaches have been at the forefront of campus activism since the program returned to practice in the summer. 

The team began by putting together a video in which both players and coach Nick Saban called for changed in society. The two minute video, written by senior offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood, featured countless statements condemning racism and violence against the Black community. 

“All lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter,” many players said at the end of the video. 

The team did not stop there. After Kenosha police shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, players and the UA Athletic Department organized a march from the Mal Moore Athletic Facility to Foster Auditorium, where segregationist governor George Wallace stood in 1963 and gave his infamous speech about continuing segregation.

At that protest, Saban spoke to the audience, players and media about what it meant to him to be a part of this team and the movement that they began at the University. 

“It’s always been our mission as a coach, and one of the reasons that I love college coaching, is to try to elevate the opportunities the players have in our program, to have a better chance to be more successful in life because they were involved in the program,” Saban said. 

Saban also talked about the opportunities that he and his players have been given. He explained how he felt that the team had been called to be active at this influential point in their careers as coaches and players.

“Sports have always created a platform for social change,” Saban said. “For each of us involved in sports, I think we have the responsibility and obligation to do that in a responsible way and use our platform in a positive way to try to create social change in a positive way.”

However, Saban and players have not and will not make a statement about where they think that change will come from politically. The Black Lives Matter movement has been a contentious subject in presidential debates and candidate rallies, but the team has announced several times that they will not endorse either candidate as reported by The focus for Saban is the educational improvement for the team. 

“I don’t have an opinion about everyone else’s opinion,” Saban said. “We try to do the right things. We try to provide positive leadership for our players. Like I said on Monday, we’re trying to elevate our players’ chances of having success in their life through their personal development, academic support so they can graduate and develop a career, and what kind of career they can develop as a football player. But a part of that is also providing leadership to elevate people around them by using their platform in a positive way.”

The UA Athletic Department, headed by director Greg Bryne, has taken steps to educate student-athletes on voting and the major issues at play in this election. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams came and spoke to the team behind closed doors to help them better understand COVID-19 and prevent the spread. But one of the more important things for Saban was increasing the team’s voter turnout.

“We’ve had several voter registration education programs,” Saban said. “Alabama Athletics’ Civic Engagement Initiative is something that we’re trying to continue to create awareness on how important it is for everyone to vote. I’ve been very proud of our players and their response to register to vote, be prepared and [be] educated on how they can vote absentee.”

In the midst of the many calls for social justice this summer, the NCAA announced that there would be no sporting events or practices on election day to give the opportunity to vote to everyone. This initiative will be permanent during election years. 

In a press conference this week, sophomore wide receiver Slade Bolden and sophomore defensive back Jordan Battle said they were excited to get to vote this upcoming election. 

“This is my first year registering to vote, so I’m excited,” Battle said. “I’m happy with what we did around here getting players registered to vote and allowing our voices to be heard this year, so we’re looking forward to that.”

Bolden emphasized a similar point to Battle and said that voting is key no matter the side you take.

“We all understand, and Coach Saban emphasizes that voting is important,” Bolden said. “No matter what your political views are, it’s important to get your view out there and what you believe, who should be what. He’s made it important for us to go out there and vote, and I will hopefully be attending to vote as well.”

Senior running back Najee Harris made sure to emphasize at the end of his speech at the protest that change can only happen for the Black community if the movement stays alive.

“But I ask you, what’s next? For certain, we can’t let this momentum die,” Harris said. “This has to be an ongoing movement until change happens. We must do more as a team and as individuals to keep this movement going.”