Vanderbilt football players will join arms with campus police officers before the team’s first practice Thursday in a show of solidarity with their community and those who protect them, the team announced Thursday.
Linebacker Oren Burks became the spokesperson for the team after SEC commissioner Greg Sankey praised his leadership as a member of the SEC’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
The issue of police relations, especially with the African-American community, has been at the forefront of this political cycle. In the sports world, there have been more and more athletes willing to speak up and take a stand to improve their communities — not necessarily taking one side or the other, just demanding that problems be dealt with more fairly to improve everyone’s lives.
Burks has been unafraid to speak up about how these issues affect his life and his desire to see police relations across the country improve.
“As an African-American male, I see things that have happened that are heart-breaking, frustrating, (and) with anger and sadness,” Burks said at SEC Media Days a few weeks ago.
“These are tough questions, but I’m blessed with the opportunity to use this platform,” said Burks, answering more than a dozen consecutive questions about police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. “I just want to be responsible with it. I am voicing my values and what I believe in.”
The gesture to start Vanderbilt practice is a sign of respect and solidarity with the police department on campus. A sign that the bridge can be divided. It was Vanderbilt players who approached the police department to make the gesture, according to a Vanderbilt press release.
Burks is expected to make a big impact for the Commodores as he shifts to the “star” linebacker position — a hybrid linebacker, safety position within their defense. He is clearly already making a big impact on campus.