At a time of political unrest, Minutewomen using their platform to create change

Team unveiled their ‘Say Their Names’ shirts in remembrance of unarmed African Americans shot by police officers

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Chris Tucci/UMass Athletics

Chris Tucci/UMass Athletics

By Freeman Alfano, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team debuted new pregame shooting shirts on Wednesday, depicting a list of unarmed African Americans who have been killed at the hands of police officers, per the team’s Twitter account. The shirts, which were ideated by guards Destiney Philoxy and Desiree Oliver, feature the phrases ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘#SayTheirNames’ – the latter of which is in reference to the victims of police brutality displayed on the shirt.

“Most schools have ‘Black Lives Matter’ on their shirts, but I didn’t really support having [that phrase] on the shirts just to have it,” Philoxy said of the design. “We wanted to have the names on the back to show that it’s more than just a movement. We actually care for every person who has passed [away] throughout the past couple of years to police violence, or just violence overall.”

While Philoxy and Oliver came up with the idea for the shirts, they still had to get the rest of their teammates to agree to wear them. But the team, of course, did agree, as they wholeheartedly support their teammates’ voices and have a unified desire for meaningful change.

“Our players want to be a part of change, so to come up with the ideas and have all those names printed on the backs of the shooting shirts says a lot about [Destiney and Desiree] – not only them, but the majority of everyone in our program,” said head coach Tory Verdi. “We want change, and this gives us an opportunity for people to remember all the things that have occurred in the past.”

This is a matter that stems back to last summer for the team, as they were outspoken in wake of the killing of George Floyd by police officers on May 25. In addition to releasing a formal statement the following week, members of the team created a video highlighting their unified fight against racial injustice.

“[We] continue to speak out and advocate against the injustices of racism and police brutality in our country,” Oliver said in the video posted on June 15.

Since then, the dialogue surrounding racial inequality and unjust force by police officers has been quieter in the public domain. But recent events, such as the decision not to charge a Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer after he shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back, continue to bring these issues to the forefront.

“I did have my high hopes [Blake’s shooter would be convicted] just because I thought the world had become a better place,” Philoxy said of the decision. “But it shows that it’s actually not, and some people are actually different.”

It is certainly a noteworthy coincidence that the debut of the shirts occurred on the same day as the absurdity that unfolded in the nation’s capital. As members of Congress began to vote to confirm Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States, supporters of sitting President Donald Trump rushed the United States Capitol with minimal resistance from law enforcement. The Minutewomen held a meeting to discuss the events the following day.

“Whether we’re the same color or not, we all feel the same way: how disgusting it is, how actions were not taken after [the rioters] had done something very illegal,” Philoxy said of what the team talked about. “We’re going to make sure our voices are heard, regardless of if it’s a small voice. One ear to another, [our voices] are going to get bigger.”

Freeman Alfano can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @freemanalfano.