It was a mistake. But it was a teachable moment, and that’s what’s important.
UND makes all sorts of pitches throughout the year as it works to increase season-ticket sales and attendance at various sporting events. Traditionally, the university uses posed, professional photos of its athletes in these advertisements, which are published in the Herald, on various websites and on social media.
By using photos of fresh-faced athletes, the university – we assume – hopes to draw attention to the ads and their respective programs, while reminding the community that these athletes need our support.
This week, the campaign took a public-relations hit when UND highlighted an athlete that has some sort of history of racist comments.
It came to a head when football player Jaxson Turner used Twitter to say he was “extremely disappointed (at the athletics department) for using an athlete that was filmed using racial slurs. … This is never acceptable but especially during a time like this. This video was brought to your attention and this athlete shouldn’t be the face of UND athletics.”
We have not seen the video, but if it’s true, Turner is absolutely correct. Good for him for standing up for what is right.
We, too, believe UND must screen its athletes prior to using them in any promotional campaign.
Meanwhile, we appreciate UND’s swift apology.
"I take full responsibility and apologize for the situation with this marketing piece,” said Bill Chaves, UND’s director of athletics. “Simply, I need to do better.”
He said he looks forward to continuing “to work with our student-athletes to make our department better every day."
And this from the UND athletics department: "UND Athletics acknowledges they made a mistake featuring the student-athlete in the promotional material. This is even more unfortunate at a time when so many communities are struggling with questions of racial diversity and equality. UND Athletics will use this opportunity to review and reassess its internal processes for promotion of student-athletes in the public sphere.”
And thus a teachable moment.
Last week, George Floyd, a black man, died after he was pinned to the ground for more than eight minutes by a white Minneapolis police officer. The incident has incited riots in many cities, but also deep conversations everywhere about whether there is true equality in America.
Hopefully, we’re all learning that while society may seem equal, it sometimes is quite apparent that it actually is not. That’s the point being made by Turner, a linebacker from Esko, Minn., who will be a senior this coming season.
Turner’s point is that these things matter. And if we’re not all thinking this way, then racial equality will not, and cannot, exist.
Colleges exist to prepare students for a better future and, in effect, better lives. Professors, instructors and coaches are tasked with teaching those students.
In this case, the process has been reversed, with Jaxson Turner playing the role of a teacher whose lesson can make us all better.