Jaimie Hoover heard the same comments every time she changed her hairstyle.
Can I touch it? How long did it take? Wow, your hair has gotten shorter!
The former Gators softball fielder said she had faced numerous micro-attacks or subtle discriminatory comments during her five years playing for UF. The hair was just one aspect.
“Me and my teammates who were black, we often felt like people didn’t understand us,” Hoover said. “Some of the things we were told were not appropriate.”
A quarter of UF’s student-athletes are black. But enrollment statistics show a clear disparity: less than 7% of the total student population is black. The group is visible in athletics and under-represented in classes.
Black athletes, Hoover said, have become an aspect of entertainment at UF. And the university benefits, while offering little support.
Former Gators tight end Clifford Taylor IV agrees. He feels like he and other black student-athletes have been drawn to universities.
“More money in their pockets, when they knew at the time that the NCAA didn’t allow us to be paid a dime,” Taylor said.
But recent changes may improve systemic issues in athletics. Taylor believes athletes can empower themselves through the NCAA’s Name, Image and Likeness policy, which allows them to receive endorsements. University athletes were prohibited from taking advantage of themselves until July 1.
However, college athletic officials disagree that college athletic programs attract black student-athletes.
Scouts are looking for athletes who can be trained and who will fit into the team regardless of race, said John Herron, deputy director of player personnel for the Gators football team.
“Why would the race come into play? ” he said. “I don’t think race plays a role in recruiting. I think it all depends on the sport.
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The diversity – and the lack of it – reflects the distribution of sports, Herron said. Football is dominant in the South. Basketball is a global sport. Swimming, golf and tennis are typical of the suburbs.
“A lot of the sports aren’t in the downtown area,” Herron said. “Thus, the number of minorities in [those sports] are going to be low.
As a black softball player in a predominantly white sport, Hoover dealt with the challenges she faced. The incessant remarks – and even the politicians – continued to target her hair type.
The team had a rule that said their athletes could not wear more than two braids, which many of their teammates found unfair.
Hair braiding has cultural and ancestral significance in the black community. Braids were used during slavery in place of cards and served as storage for food. They remain an important style of protection.
Protective styles are notably easier to maintain for black student-athletes. They help keep hair and sweat away during games.
Hoover and other black players called a team meeting to explain how politics could be discriminatory. They took the opportunity to educate their coach, who had not understood the impact of the rule on some of his players.
“Her reasoning was not meant to oppress our hair,” she said. “Fortunately, he saw our concerns and took them to heart.”
Misunderstood by coaches and their teammates, black athletes sought a safe space. A space to gather, talk and express themselves on the important issues of predominantly white teams.
The Black Student-Athlete Council served as this space. A student development coordinator from the University Sports Association created the council in 2020 for Gators athletes in all 21 UF sports.
Hoover and other athletes discussed racial issues and used the group to educate their teammates about their micro-attacks.
However, advice is not enough, she said, and UF must adapt to move forward. Black student-athletes are not only used for profit, but to promote diversity – even if the diversity isn’t actually there.
“UF should have more black groups and communities for these black students to have an outlet,” she said. “There has to be diversity, especially in staff and teachers. ”
Taylor agrees that UF should trade words with actions to show solidarity with its black students. Previous statements from the university, especially after the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, were nothing more than performative activism, he said.
“With everything that happened last year, you would think there would be changes, but honestly I haven’t seen any,” he said. “Instead of sending messages, maybe the administration could show up at some of the events organized by minority groups, learn about our different cultures and certainly expand the minority student population.”
The board was too small a solution for a big problem. So Taylor longs to see a change, to see more opportunity for people who were raised like him, who look like him, who are passionate about being black student-athletes.
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Karina Wilson is a second year student at the University of Florida in the College of Journalism and Communication with a major in Sports and Media. It aims to produce engaging, accurate and current content for all types of sports fans. Currently, Karina is the author of Lacrosse Beats for The Alligator.