America East Basketball plans anti-racism campaign

By Kristan Bravo

Stony Brook University Athletics has committed to participating in an anti-racism campaign later this basketball season, regardless of Covid-19 restrictions.

Following the death of George Floyd last May, conversations surrounding anti-racism were prevalent among America East athletic programs. Stony Brook Director of Athletics Shawn Heilbron said the university plans to carry out its commitment, even if fans cannot attend games.

“Even if we don’t have fans in the stands, it’s important to our institution, our coaches and student-athletes,” Heilbron said. “Through social media and our games being streamed, I think we can still put on an anti-racism game that will have an impact.”

Hailey Zeise, a senior guard and forward for Stony Brook basketball, expressed to her coach that she was interested in planning the initiative.

Stony Brook University athletes are taking a stand against racism. Photo courtesy Hailey Zeise

Social justice “was something that we knew we valued a lot on our team, so we wanted to be part of anything the America East was going to put on,” Zeise said.

The conference has hosted “Spread Respect” nights at home games for five years. In the past, the events have focused on equality for all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and race. The 2020–21 season will have a more direct focus on anti-racism.

“I love the term anti-racism because it’s an actionable item,” Zeise said. “It’s not enough to say, ‘I’m not racist.’ You have to be intentionally working against racism.”

Along with three other student-athletes and a handful of coaches from around the conference, Zeise wanted the anti-racism push to be a “movement rather than a moment.”

“That initial meeting was about just doing an anti-racism game,” Zeise said. “On that first call, we collaborated and decided that doing a season would be far more impactful.”

The planning committee has held three virtual calls over the past few weeks. Zeise said members recently developed concrete ideas for the season.

“Here at Stony Brook, we’re putting a social justice word on the back of our away jerseys instead of our last names, to show unity and solidarity with the movement,” Zeise said.

The women’s basketball team also wears warmup shirts that have the Black Lives Matter symbol on the front, and a phrase on the back that the players got to choose. Zeise’s shirt says, “Justice Now.”

Zeise’s warm-up shirt makes a statement. Courtesy Hailey Zeise

In addition to anti-racism language on the team’s gear, there will be signage on the billboards at games and social media posts to reach fans at home.

America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen said the main goal of the campaign is education. Video interviews addressing what it means to be an anti-racist will be prevalent on America East social media channels as the season gets under way. The Stony Brook athletics department embraced the opportunity.

“It really is aligned with who we are as a conference and what our institution stands for,” Heilbron said, who added that he is excited about involvement from the student-athletes and the opportunity to spread an important message.

“We saw in the NBA how the players utilized their platform,” Heilbron said. “It’s important that we support our Black athletes and stand with them. Given the high-profile nature of basketball, I think they have a real opportunity to shine a light on racial injustice and start the conversation within departments, campuses and whole communities.”

Zeise said the Covid-19 pandemic will put even more eyes on college basketball, allowing players’ messages to gain traction.

“We’re the first sport in America East to compete, and nobody’s looking at a team more than when you’re in competition,” Zeise said.” I think it’s a really great way for Stony Brook — given the demographics of Long Island — to teach people to be good allies.”

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