November 26, 2020

Independent analysis and commentary on UVA athletics

Unity in Chaos

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This is Chapter 2 of Unity, Virginia Basketball in 2020-21

As we start this preview of the upcoming basketball season, the nation approaches the end of the election season. Over a hundred million Americans have already “gone to the polls” and tens of millions more will physically go tomorrow, Election Day. People on both sides view the election apocalyptically, with the other side’s victory meaning the end of values they cherish. Millions of others who don’t support either side feel unrepresented and unheard. Social order appears to be disinitegrating. Black Americans and their allies yet again confront the ugly realities of American racism, epitomized by the regular murder of Black men and women by police agents who are protected from justice for their crimes by a complicit system, in full view of an indifferent citizenry (Breonna Taylor’s murderers remain uncharged while her family gets a million dollar payoff and one of the officers actually sues her boyfriend).

All of this under the black cloud of a historic pandemic that we lack the will and ability to defeat. Our country has had its worst week of the crisis just now. Death gallops gaily across the land. It is in this upsurge of the pandemic that has caused European democracies to lock down their economies that we attempt to return to the sport we love, a sport that lost its crown jewels to this same pandemic last spring.

Basketball seems so unimportant in the midst of all this chaos. Basketball seems so important for those of us trying to navigate the uncertainty and find a future amidst what appears to be the end of life as we’ve known it. What we need to get through it is Unity. Will we get Unity? Will we make it happen? Will we avoid seeing each other as impersonal abstractions, as phantasmic Halloween monsters, and instead look around us at brothers and sisters who just like us are merely trying to survive and have a good life?

This need for a way to find unity, for an example of unity, is what makes Virginia Basketball so important to me today. Unity is one of the Five Pillars, one of the five unchanging non-negotiables of Virginia Basketball. Unity is the theme for the Cavaliers this year, a theme that has been borrowed by the ACC.

Back in early June when America still cared, the Hoos got together and made a video telling us what Unity Means. Thanks to Justin McKoy posting it to Twitter, I found it and was able to incorporate bits of it into my 2020-21 season video Voices:

Ever since he arrived at Virginia, Tony Bennett has shown us the way to Unity with his teams. The other four pillars all support it, because a man who serves with humility and passion in a spirit of thankfulness builds unity. If all serve each other, all will be united. His teams live that and they show us that it can work in our own lives. There has not been a time where we needed more to watch Tony’s diverse group of young men live and breathe Unity.

Think about the 17 young men and their coach, and the diversity their backgrounds represent. Tony is from a self-consciously Italian-American family and he grew up in the white upper midwest. Sam Hauser shares his Wisconsin upbringing (they graduated from the same high school). Jay Huff and Carson McCorkle are from White North Carolina families; Trey Murphy from a Black North Carolina family; and Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick from mixed race North Carolina families. Kihei Clark is mixed race from California (Asian and Black). Francisco Caffaro is from Argentina, Kody Stattmann from Australia and Tomas Woldetensae from Italy. Malachi Poindexter grew up in Central Virginia and dreamed of playing for Virginia. Chase Coleman grew up in Norfolk with a mother who was a Hoo, both of them Black. Jayden Nixon is a Black man who attended predominantly White schools at Choate Rosemary in Connecticut and STAB in Charlottesville before UVA. Austin Katstra grew up in Central Virginia like Malachi, but as a young White man. Casey Morsell is a young Black man from Maryland. Jabri Abdur-Rahim came to UVA from New Jersey, with a father who played in the NBA before becoming an executive in the NBA. Reece Beekman comes to UVA from Louisiana, but grew up in Wisconsin – meaning the Hoos have a young White man and a young Black man from Tony Bennett’s home state.

If these young men of such racial, geographic and experiential diversity can find Unity with each other, why can’t we?

The players told us that unity to them means standing with Black Lives Matter and taking seriously the need to end racism and stop the types of treatment that they and others have brought to our attention.

Justin gave us one of the best explanations for why saying “Black Lives Matter” is important in his entry on the “@Athletes4BLM” Instagram page started by two UVA student-athletes. Justin reaches into his experiences, his life, and his study to explain that we need to explicitly acknowledge that “Black Lives Matter” because in our history when we have said “all men are created equal,” Black men and women were excluded from that.

As someone said, it’s not enough to just cheer for our athletes on game day. We need to support them in their lives. We need to honor their life experiences and hear their voices. “Unity” is a joke if it means standing by while our brothers and sisters are mistreated, oppressed, or even murdered. I made the video Voices to honor this.

What we need to do is listen to our Black brothers and sisters when they tell us what policies and laws are important to them in changing how America treats them and support those positions. “Yeah but” is not an answer. It is not support. Fuck “yeah but.” Listen, study, learn, for example, that “defund the police” doesn’t mean get rid of law enforcement. It means cut bloated police budgets that are used to militarize these forces, and spend that money on the community and on humane ways of dealing with the myriad of situations we deputize to the police. That is just one example.

If you care about Chase, see that he is telling us he can’t breathe in racist America. If you care about Justin, listen to him when he says we need to say that Black Lives Matter. If you care about Malcolm Brogdon and Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall, listen to them when they say that the current situation is intolerable and change is needed. Listen to them and support the changes they want.

That’s what Unity means.

Next: All-ACC Awards