Purdue Fort Wayne men's basketball players are committed to making change in their communities.
As the protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers took off in late May and early June, the Mastodons began debating what they could do as a team to combat racism.
In recent weeks, the team put together a statement, which junior guard Jarred Godfrey posted on social media.
“We, the Mastodons Men's Basketball Team, would like to say Rest in Peace to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor,” the statement begins. “We would also like to honor the many others that have lost their lives or have been negatively affected due to racism and police brutality that have gone unnoticed publicly.”
Later in the letter, the Mastodons issued a call to action.
“We would like to use our platform to inspire others to positively affect change,” the statement said. “Police brutality and racism is no longer a topic anyone should ignore, even if it does not personally affect you. Please step up and be a part of the positive change! We hope that you will join us because we believe strongly that the time for change is now!”
The Mastodons did not stop at writing a letter, however. As part of their plan to set an example for the community and take active steps to fix the problems they see, every member of the team has registered to vote and applied for an absentee ballot, and the team has made it its mission to convince as many other students on the PFW campus as possible to also get registered and cast a ballot.
“We were seeing everything that was going on (with the protests), and everybody was just kind of stuck and didn't really know what to do,” Godfrey said. “Then, we started talking (with each other) more and more, and it started transitioning into what we can do to help fix what's going to help change things.
“We came up with the idea that one way we can start doing that is by voting. At first, a lot of us weren't registered to vote on the team or had never voted before, so I feel like that's a big step in this process is voting and voting for whoever you feel like will make a change based on what you believe in.”
Mastodons coach Jon Coffman has been on Zoom calls with his team twice a week since March and has recently watched the statement Godfrey posted on Twitter come together. He praised his team for taking their time to put together an announcement that had a lot of thought behind it. He said he learned a lot from listening to his players share their experiences during those video calls and is excited for how they can be on the leading edge of change in the future.
“I really have a lot of pride in our group,” Coffman said of his team. “I have a lot of pride in our alumni as well, and I just think there's a tremendous generation of future leaders out there that I've seen on a firsthand basis.
“Not everybody gets to work with 18-24-year-olds every day, and I'm blessed that I do, so I just have such a positive feeling for our future because of the future leaders I get to work with every day.”
Registering to vote is not the extent of the Mastodons' efforts to make change. Godfrey and his teammates have been trying to educate themselves on issues of race in recent months, and starting in August, Godfrey will post a suggested educational work – such as a movie or podcast – once a week.
In addition, Godfrey is pushing to add a “Black Lives Matter” patch to the Mastodons' Horizon League uniforms when the basketball season starts in the fall. He and Coffman are still waiting to hear back from the league on whether that will be permitted. The 6-foot-5 guard would also like to add such a patch to the teams' travel backpacks or wear “Black Lives Matter”-branded gear when the team travels to road games “so people can see what we represent and what we stand for.”
“Just seeing how people get treated in some places and thinking our country has come so far and it has changed so much and how we still have so much farther to go in this specific aspect of it,” Godfrey said about why he feels it's important for him to speak out. “I feel for those people. It's sad to see and makes me upset to see some of that stuff, so it's just trying to figure out ways to help.”