Football: Senior JR Pace urges fans to hear voices of Black athletes as team prepares for season opener



A screen grab from JR Pace’s Twitter video. NU’s senior safety spoke candidly about the experiences he and his teammates face as Black athletes.

Ella Brockway and Andrew Golden


On Wednesday, senior safety JR Pace posted a powerful video on his personal Twitter urging Wildcat fans to hear the voices of Black athletes.

In the video, posted three days before Northwestern’s season opener, Pace and other Black players on the football team were pictured as the Georgia native spoke candidly about his experiences as a Black man. Pace referenced his experiences wearing NU team gear so he and his teammates aren’t racially profiled, and feeling fear after watching videos of unarmed Black men dying at the hands of police.

“This isn’t over,” Pace said. “Until we all commit to listening, learning, educating and action, nothing will change. If you cheer for us, hear us.”

Pace’s video was met with support from current teammates, former teammates and coach Pat Fitzgerald. The video was also shared by the athletic department’s primary Twitter and Instagram accounts.

In June, after the death of George Floyd, Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips released a statement saying that he was committed to making sure the athletic department was active in engaging in the fight against racism and systemic injustices toward the Black community.

Eleven representatives from NU Athletics — Phillips, head baseball coach Spencer Allen, junior safety Bryce Jackson and field hockey senior Christen Conley among others — were named to the Big Ten’s Anti-Hate and Anti-Racist Coalition on June 15. Days later, Maria Sanchez was hired as the department’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer.

That same month, the NU Black Student-Athlete Alliance created a GoFundMe page for Rebuild the Hood, a non-profit organization “dedicated to revitalizing distressed communities by investing in small businesses and real estate.” The GoFundMe raised over $23,000 in the span of 25 days.

In a press conference in early August, Fitzgerald said the program had encouraged both group and individual conversations about sparking change, as social justice movements and protests increased across the country this summer.

“I’ll use our current players and then obviously a lot of our former players and our mentors in the Black community to help guide us in how we can do things best,” Fitzgerald said on August 7. “I’ve tried to really educate myself, I’ve tried to educate our staff, and then that will continue on with our football program to make sure we understand exactly how we can be better citizens, how we can be better brothers, how we can be better teammates.”

In late August, Jacob Blake, who grew up in Evanston, was shot by police officers in his car in Kenosha, Wisc. Kenosha is the city where the football program annually stages its summer training camp. The program nor the athletic department did not release any official statement on its accounts, but Fitzgerald issued a reply with his thoughts on Twitter six days after the shooting.

Two months later, Pace has reignited the conversation inside NU athletics about continued action and support off the field from fans. At Northwestern, that action has been taking place on campus for the past week and a half.

Since Oct. 12, student organizers for Northwestern Community Not Cops have been calling for change, leading daily protests in Evanston demanding the abolition of University Police. Almost 150 days ago, students demanded that the University abolish the police department, and do not plan to stop protesting until NU does so.

President Morton Schapiro said in a statement on Monday that he has no intention of abolishing the police department, adding that the students’ peaceful protests had turned disruptive.

“I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the overstepping of the protesters,” Schapiro wrote. “They have no right to menace members of our academic and surrounding communities.”

Though the athletic department has attempted to make strides within and create more pathways for athletes to speak out on systemic oppression they face, Black non-athletes on campus have still been met with silence from campus administration.

Several students associated with NU Community Not Cops said the video could have done more to promote the work other Black students were doing to abolish UP. More than a dozen people commented below the original post on Twitter, using the replies section to promote the organization’s mission.

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