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Springfield hosts “Reflecting and Connecting” event about experiences of black student-athletes

By Carley Crain

On Tuesday evening, members of the Springfield College community came together virtually to learn and reflect about the experiences of Division III black student-athletes. The lecture was in collaboration with athletes from Springfield College, Amherst College and Mount Holyoke College.

Adaeze Alaeze, Coordinator of Student-Athlete Leadership Development and Sports Communications Assistant at Springfield moderated the meeting in addition to panelists LaToya Franklin, Micaela Pierce, Sharmar Martin and David Kagulu-Kalema. The keynote speaker for the evening was Lamarr Pottinger, the Associate Director of Leadership Development for the NCAA.

The night started out with an open forum where panelists shared their experiences as former student-athletes. The audience was then split up into different break out rooms, where more intimate conversations took place. The night ended with Pottinger’s keynote speech, where his main focus was to “break out of the box.”

Laytoya Franklin and Sharmar Martin were two of the panelists that were Springfield Alumni as well as being former basketball and football student-athletes. Micaela Pierce was a former field hockey player at Mount Holyoke College and David Kagulu-Kalema was a standout basketball player at Amherst College. Despite going to different universities, all of the panelists faced racism as student athletes.

Each panelist spoke about the importance of representation and having a mentor. They shared that having someone that understands your lived experiences and looks like you is very encouraging and powerful in not only sports, but in all aspects of life.

“What made me feel seen was having a connection with a mentor, someone that looks like you is great. I had great coaches and administrators but they did not look like me,” said Pierce.

Panelists spoke about the unique pressures they faced as black athletes compared to their white counterparts. There is an external pressure put on black athletes that no mistakes are allowed, everything has to be perfect, and if mistakes are made future opportunities are questionable.

“You are under a microscope. If you make a mistake there is an extreme reaction vs a teammate who may have made the same mistake or something worse, not being recognized or awarded when your stats prove that you are on the top , or being pulled out of games and having limited playing time all due to the color of your skin,” said Franklin.

While all these panelists had to deal with ongoing racism, each had different experiences. One even left their team due to racism being ignored and swept under the rug by administration and coaches. The power of having tough conversations and not staying silent leads to numerous opportunities- that quite frankly can save lives.

“Silence speaks volumes. Being proactive is important in being a good ally,” said Franklin.

Keynote speaker Lamarr Pottinger then gave his speech about the importance of identity outside of sport. Athletes may excel at sports but that does not mean that is their entire identity. Engaging in other activities and clubs molds character outside of just “being an athlete.”

“I had so many identities outside of being a student-athlete and moving forward in my journey and career that is what contributed to my success, being more than what you all see on the screen,” said Pottinger.

“Being more than my title as Associate Director of Leadership Development for the NCAA. That’s great and I am very blessed to be in this role and have the opportunity however that is not who I am. Because of that situation I was able to break out of the box and make sure my passion and my drive was always to push others, not just student athletes to break out of their box.”

The Springfield community was able to come together for a powerful night of reflection and education about the experiences of former black student-athletes.

Photo courtesy of Springfield College Athletics

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