• Kaiden Smith


A few months ago, I wrote an article for The Appalachian about my experiences as a black student athlete at App State and my opinions on the social injustice specific to the town of Boone. The feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive, students and even alumni I’ve never met reached out to me with words of encouragement. This support parallels the strive towards positive change that I believe this local community is moving towards, which gives me hope.

But, for as good as I felt scrolling through my DMs after my article was published, I felt just as bad about a month later scrolling through Facebook.

App State Athletics posted a graphic featuring a poster showing various black student athletes with ‘#BlackLivesMatter’ at the bottom, a partnership with Old Hat Creative to support collegiate student athletes, coaches, and staff of color.

The post itself brought me joy: App State Athletics has over 25,000 followers, and using their platform to speak on social injustice is a big deal. But the 300 plus comments, many of which were hateful, made me feel quite the opposite, making me sick to my stomach.

It was beyond difficult to see donors say they were no longer donating to the school, and fans saying they were no longer supporting our program just because our athletic department said my life and others like me have value. That is all that ‘matters’ means; to have value, to be important, to have some type of relevance or significance.

The post didn’t say black lives matter more than others, just that they matter at all; yet that’s now something that can’t be agreed on and makes people upset. Comedian Micael Che said it best, the bare minimum is being asked for, I mean what means less than matters? Exists? Can we say that black lives exist?

University of South Carolina quarterback Jay Urich started the “Matter is the minimum” movement under his non-profit Original Design. Urich has received support from his teammates, coaches, and even South Carolina alumni, all backing the idea that “matters” is just where negotiations start, and that more needs to be done.

Social media and the internet are filled with hate, real news, fake news, and opinions we agree with and disagree with. It can be a troubling place, where at times we seem more polarized as a nation then we’ve ever been. But, a place that is the complete opposite of this is on a sports team.

In my 14 years of playing football, the game has never discriminated. It has never mattered if you were tall, short, fat, skinny, black, white, blue, or green; if you could play you could play, and the best player always plays. And it never has never mattered if you were a republican, democrat, Christian, Buddhist, or atheist; if you constantly worked hard alongside your teammates they would do anything for you, on or off the field.

I always knew this was true, but this truth became even more recognizable following the murder of Jacob Blake, when our football team decided not to practice and instead used that time to talk about the social injustice issues in this country.

Stories were told and questions were asked, players and coaches laughed, cried, and discussed what we could do to make a difference. It was the most authentic moment of my life, and I know my teammates and I will never forget it. Our team is closer than it’s ever been because of this, and I know we aren’t the only ones. Teams across the nation in all sports at the college and professional level are having similar conversations with each other, as many teams are taking unified stands against inequality.

So in a world where we seem more polarized and divided than ever, why are locker rooms closer and more unified than ever? It’s because locker room conversations are real, they’re pure and genuine, and maybe most importantly in person. They aren't virtual, there are no screens to hide behind, and if any differing opinions arise, you have to look a person in their eyes to tell them how you feel.

The world of sports has embraced these real conversations that aren’t always easy to have, forcing people of different races and backgrounds to conversate. I believe our society needs more of this, and because of the circumstances of COVID-19 and nature of social media, we’ve turned our back on this principle. Coronavirus has distanced us physically and lately social media has been doing the same with us socially.

We often lose sight of the fact that social media is not reality, just a reflection of it. Someone's profile, likes, reposts, and comments may paint a picture of who they are, but will not tell exactly who they are. Their profile is going to show the best version of themself, their likes and reposts will tell you a little about their views and interests, and comments are a lot easier to type than to say to someone's face.

Hate, and even love, are easier to spread virtually, that’s why everything in regards to social media should be taken with a grain of salt. If you disagree with something, spiteful comments and words on social media do nothing but spread hatred. But, a real discussion with someone will make real change, regardless of what you support.

I wish the world was more like a sports team, an environment where when adversity hits, we find a way to become closer, not more divided. The world of sports has always been a sacred place where hate has been kept to a minimum, let's keep it that way and transfer that same philosophy not only on social media, but into the real world as much as we can.

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