Our View: Saban knows that silence is dangerous

CW Editorial Board

The University of Alabama cannot be separated from the state of Alabama. It cannot be separated from national conversations of justice. Any attempts to do so are dishonest. The University of Alabama ought to be a figure for active change through legislative action and political participation. 

The University cannot be divorced from public discourse because its own history is intertwined with the history of this nation. A walk around campus isn’t complete without seeing plaques that commemorate buildings’ significance in the Civil War. Our university once served as a training ground for Confederate soldiers, so how can we pretend that it hasn’t played a role in the struggle for justice? When the University had to be forced to integrate after the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, how can we reevaluate our role in upholding the experience of minority students? 

In the last few years, this country has been reevaluating the ways it views social justice. It is impossible for the University to remain silent in these conversations. As the state’s flagship university, it has a role in the state’s legacy. When it comes to matters of social change, the University has a unique position. It can use its influence to translate social change into actual policy. It can shatter stigma. 

The University’s participation in national movements matters, but what exactly is “the University”? Placing the responsibility of “justice” on the University relies on a vague and elusive measure of justice, achieved by a nameless and unidentifiable institution. To truly impact the community that surrounds us, the University’s efforts at social change must come from action by students, faculty and administration. It is easy for individuals to pawn off their responsibilities onto a nameless organization, but this attitude ignores the fact that all institutions are composed of individual people with beliefs, values and actions that inevitably influence the institution’s image. 

The University doesn’t need to be a faceless organization. Individuals with influence can uplift the institution and the community we interact with. Earlier this month, Nick Saban gained national attention for something other than winning a football game. 

The championship-winning coach was an instrumental co-signer in a letter to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin supporting the Freedom to Vote Act. The letter, co-signed by notable figures in sports, supported the bill and its “measures to provide voters with a range of opportunities to obtain and cast a lawful ballot, including robust in-person, early, and absentee voting options.”

Saban’s involvement in the political sphere was criticized by the bill’s opponents. In a since-deleted tweet, Republican Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina said “Nick Saban should focus on winning National Championships instead of destroying our elections.” 

In a speech outside Foster Auditorium after participating in a Black Lives Matter march in 2020, Saban said, “Sports has always created a platform for social change. … For each of us involved in sports, I think we have a 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 positive ways.” 

Saban understands the truth of our collective responsibility. He is, in many ways, the face of this university. With such a position of influence, he has a responsibility to ensure that his image improves the community he represents. 

Taking action will inevitably invite scrutiny. But like Saban, we must be willing, as residents of Alabama and representatives of this university, to endure discomfort in the service of a greater cause. 

The actions of individuals like Saban are not just important in the sports world; they set a precedent for the mobilization of nonpolitical figures in pursuit of social change. They have the potential to inspire university representatives at all levels to reconsider the role of academia and how it can be utilized to influence policy. Though the Freedom to Vote Act was ultimately not passed, Saban’s actions still matter; they change our perspective on what exactly entertainment is for. 

The University’s faculty members also play a role in upholding justice in the spheres they engage in and in the community as a whole. In the 2021 Alabama legislative session, multiple bills banning the practice of critical race theory were proposed and passed. 

As a reaction, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution in opposition to the legislation, asserting that any bans on critical race theory are a concern to the cause of academic freedom. The perspective of university faculty in the conversation of critical race theory is vastly important, as no one is more qualified to discuss the merits of any practice than those who teach it. 

This action by the Faculty Senate serves as an example of how university members may use their unique experience and knowledge to influence their community. 

Students are no different. Though we may not have the esteem of a degree or career yet, college students are community members in our own right. Our voices are powerful, and it’s up to us to use our voice toward change. 

As college students, we have the unique position of having the fresh perspective of our youth. We are savvy with social media. We know how to garner attention for an issue. We alongside other community members can change the world. 

Two years ago, in response to Gov. Kay Ivey’s proposal to lease two private mega-prisons in the state, the student group Alabama Students Against Prisons formed. Though the group originated over Zoom, in the midst of a pandemic, its members were still able to enact change. 

In December 2020, the group staged a protest at Regions Bank in Birmingham, urging the bank to divest from CoreCivic, one of the companies building the proposed mega-prison. The students’ efforts were ultimately successful. 

This is the power that college students have. When united, motivated, and impassioned, we have the ability to see real change occur. We have the ability to make justice a reality rather than just an ideal. 

Achieving justice isn’t a simple endeavor. It is a quest that cannot ever be fully realized. This should not dissuade us from trying every day to be more aware of our place in the world. As part of the University, every member has a role in pursuing a better, more equitable community. 

From students to faculty to championship-winning coaches, we can all begin making this reality by simply acknowledging the fact that the University and the community that surrounds it are one and the same. We do not exist and learn in a vacuum. We are the face of the state of Alabama. We are a national institution. 

If our individual actions seem insignificant to us now, they will certainly leave a legacy behind. If this university is “where legends are made,” let’s ensure these are legacies worth reading.

This story was published in the Justice Edition. View the complete issue here.

Questions? Email the Opinions desk at [email protected].