Historically college athletes are expected to be seen and not heard, especially athletes of color. Last fall a group of Black University of Missouri football players stood up and refused to play, which forced the resignations of the school president and chancellor because of on-campus racial incidents.
Jamal Clark got shot a few weeks later on a North Minneapolis street corner last fall, which had an impact on Rob Harper, a senior wide receiver at Augsburg College. Harper is active in campus groups, especially racial and social justice issues. “At Augsburg, there is a difference between student athletes and the students who are interested in social justice,” said Harper, who is featured in this week’s Another View.
The Chicago native is sociology major and a criminal justice minor. “I think that’s a big problem because you have such a diverse group of athletes working together to achieve a common goal, but the subtle racial issues are being ignored — especially in Minnesota where they pretend it doesn’t exist,” he said.
Recently Harper and others had a campus “all-nighter” where current issues were talked about. “There were a lot of people there but I was disappointed that there weren’t more athletes,” he recalls.
He knows that other athletes of color at the school aren’t as outspoken or willing to speak on issues as he is, while others are unsure how it will be received if they speak out.
This is one reason why Harper and another teammate started an on-campus group for athletes and other students of color “where we feel like it is safe to talk about our experiences. We’ve only had one meeting. Right now we only have about 10 people, but I do expect it will expand,” he said.
Harper said he doesn’t mind taking on uncomfortable topics — the Clark shooting being a prime example these days. “When you are talking about race, a lot of times people are saying, ‘Why are you always pulling the race card?” notes the Columbia Heights High School graduate. “(To) not bring it up or not talk about it, I don’t think that ever will be me. Some people felt uncomfortable when I brought up diversity issues [and] racial inequality, and I still brought it up.
“I feel uncomfortable when I have a friend’s parent brings up the topic and they just assume that [because] I am an educated Black man…I would see it the way they do,” explains Harper. “They assume because I’m educated, I am not going to be involved in the Black Lives Matter movement because [they see them as] ignorant Black people who don’t have anything better to do.
“I am part of the movement because I am educated,” he states proudly. As a result, Harper hopes the new start-up group sticks around campus after he and fellow classmates leave school this spring. This, he surmises, might serve as a legacy he can leave behind rather than his fledgling Auggies football career.
“I didn’t get that much playing time, so I won’t be remembered as much as an athlete,” concludes Harper. “But [he’ll be remembered] as an athlete who’s been outspoken and didn’t really care what people were thinking.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.