Liberty Football Announces New Social Equality Initiative
When Liberty’s football players walked onto the field last Saturday against Western Kentucky, their helmets displayed a new message: #CreatedEqually.
The product of days of heartfelt team discussions on racial injustice since coming back to school, their new campaign began with locker-room conversations – but those discussions have grown into a player-led social equality initiative that’s spearheading the way for all of Liberty Athletics to follow.
And Coach Hugh Freeze’s players are just getting started.
Now led by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (a student-athlete-led body composed of two athletes from every Liberty team) under the supervision of Associate AD for Student Engagement and Development Butch Jefferson, the football team’s initiative has partnered with Liberty Athletics, aiming to be a part of a university-wide push to positively impact school culture.
Including a new social media campaign entitled “Listen, Learn and Love,” #CreatedEqually will be pushing for voter engagement, mental health and community outreach, all aimed to deepen the program’s social engagement in the fight against racism.
The movement, now campus-wide, began organically within the football team – due in part to defensive end Tre’Shaun Clark’s decision to hold a rally for racial justice on Liberty’s campus early in September. Inspired by Clark’s outspokenness, Freeze and his players came together to brainstorm a way to unify their voices on the topic.
“We had three days of incredible discussion, open dialogue, raw, honest with our entire team,” Freeze said in a press conference. “I told them, if (the movement) honors God, if it honors Liberty – even if it challenges Liberty – if we can be united on it, then I’m all in.”
After conversations within each position group over those three days, Freeze talked to each group to hear their thoughts. Redshirt junior quarterback Malik Willis said in a press conference that the whole team came together to hold a parliamentary meeting to decide on a unified response.
“Everyone was saying, we’re all equal and we should be treated equally, and that’s how we got it to #CreatedEqually,” Willis said.
“That just means, no matter what you look like, no matter who you are, where you’re from, everybody comes from God,” Willis said. “Everyone’s equal. We’re just people out here.”
For Freeze’s players, #CreatedEqually meant helmet stickers and videos – but it also meant tangible action, and as the team discussed their plans, they started reaching out to other teams around campus, like the basketball team, offensive lineman Thomas Sargeant said in a press conference.
“It’s awesome, especially for all of Liberty Athletics to take a hold of that,” Sargeant said.
After bringing everyone’s ideas together, Freeze wrote up a form of creed for the initiative, looking to make sure that they incorporated practical steps to impact their community – practical steps that the whole athletics department is embracing now.
“Liberty Athletics stands alongside our coaches, staff and student-athletes in advocating for positive social change in a manner that conveys love, equality and unity,” Director of Athletics Ian McCaw said in a press release. “The second greatest commandment is to love one another and that includes treating each person with honor, dignity and respect.”
Along with raising awareness through social media campaigns like SAAC-driven “Listen, Learn and Love,” that meant voter engagement and community outreach, with both Liberty football and men’s basketball (via social media) announcing they had registered 100% of their players to vote. Freeze also said the football team will be parterning with Angel Armies (a charity organized by Chris Tomlin) to reach out to orphans and foster children in the Lynchburg area.
“We want to create change,” Freeze said. “We want to help. We don’t want to add to the divisiveness … we want to build others up and be an agent for change.”
Both Sargeant and Willis emphasized the crucial role Clark’s decision to hold the “Justice 4 Us” rally in early September played in moving the team’s conversations forward. Clark, along with a few other Liberty students, including women’s basketball player Dee Brown, helped organize the rally to promote more discussion on racism and unity on Liberty’s campus – sparking many conversations on the team.
“I think that was big,” Willis said. “The way he went about it was great. He wasn’t trying to bring any nonsense – he was just trying to peacefully let his voice out. … For him to stand up and use his voice, it was very inspiring in my eyes. What he did, that inspired Coach (Freeze) as well, and that’s what got us to #CreatedEqually.”
For Willis, seeing his school step up and take action has been deeply encouraging in the midst of a divisive political climate.
“It’s big, especially at this time, where it’s really dangerous for people of African-American race,” Willis said. “It’s scary sometimes walking out there alone … but to see our university take a step forward and try to initiate some change, initiate some awareness – that was big. It put a bright spot in my heart.”
John Nekrasov in the Sports Editor. Follow him on Twitter at @john_nekrasov.