Taking a Knee in Alabama

Taylor Morgan is a senior soccer player for the University of Alabama. She made the journey to Tuscaloosa after starring at Westfield High School in Westfield, N.J. In addition to playing Division I soccer, she is the vice chair of the SEC Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and a member of the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll.

Like other student-athletes in the Southeastern Conference, Taylor is playing this fall in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. There have been 2,300 cases at the University of Alabama since classes began on August 19 (although, fortunately, the numbers have been trending downward over the last two weeks). It is undoubtedly a stressful time for everyone on campus, but in spite of that, Morgan, along with four of her teammates, chose to take a knee during the anthem in protest of police violence and racial inequity before their opening game against Tennessee. A handful of Tennessee players did the same. In addition, before the game, both teams stood while holding red SHOW RACISM THE RED CARD signs.

At a time when an authoritarian president rages about patriotic education and an attorney general declares cities “anarchist jurisdictions,” any instance of dissent should be embraced. Taking a knee in Alabama, the site of Trump’s infamous “sons of bitches” speech about kneeling NFL players, made the students’ act especially brave. Sure enough, Morgan and her teammates angered all the right people. She took to Instagram to issue a response to the backlash. She wrote,

My choice to kneel before today’s game was one of the easiest decisions that I’ve ever had to make. By kneeling, it was in no way meant as a disrespect to the flag nor the military; which both my father and brother are a part of. In fact, I did this for them. I did this for the millions of African Americans like them that are being oppressed By taking a knee alongside the number of athletes that have done this across the country, I am committing to help with us being the change for the future generations of this team, this athletic program and this country. I will use my platform that I’ve worked hard to earn in a way that will be seen and heard. I am black, but I am mixed. I recognize my privilege and will use it to support to those who lack it. In the end, my actions are not meant to disrespect the flag, but instead are actions that are fighting for what is right, and that is and always will be that black lives do matter. This fight against systemic racism is far from over, but I can assure you that change is coming, and I will be a part of making sure it does.

That last line, “This fight against systemic racism is far from over, but I can assure you that change is coming, and I will be a part of making sure it does,” rings with a defiance that hopefully will be remembered long after Morgan’s collegiate soccer career ends.

Morgan received immediate support from her young coach Wes Hart. Only in his second season leading the team, Hart refused calls to condemn his players. “Our message to the team was, ‘You are adults, and if you have a personal opinion, we support your right to express it,’” Hart said. “I didn’t try to make too much out of it, and my approach will be to continue to go forward with mutual respect and love for each other.”

Taylor Morgan also received support from the first soccer player, first white person, and first woman to kneel after Colin Kaepernick, soccer icon Megan Rapinoe. The always outspoken Rapinoe tweeted, “We are with you [Taylor Morgan] keep walking in that strength, and doing the right thing. #BlackLivesMatter.”

No one should have been too surprised to see Morgan and her teammates take this step. On September 1, when Alabama’s storied football team marched for racial justice on campus, the soccer team marched as well. The movement of athletes using their platform to raise the issue of racial justice, even in the most difficult of environments, isn’t going anywhere.

Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
Become an Edge of Sports Sustainer (Click Here)


Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com