She didn’t play in last Sunday’s victory over St. Louis – at her coach’s behest she was resting the ankle she’d rolled four days earlier in Philadelphia – and yet Araion Bradshaw made a far bigger impact for the Dayton Flyers’ program and the university as a whole that day than she ever could have with just a ball in her hands.
Since she was a young hoops talent growing up in Boston, Bradshaw has embraced the mantra she repeated again the other day:
“I’m about more than just putting the ball in the basket. I’m more than just a basketball player.”
Last Sunday she was able to show that to the nation.
CBS Sports – on a day it celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King with special programming – ran a feature on her during halftime of UD’s nationally-televised game with the Billikens.
It told of the strong social consciousness she’s developed in recent years, not only because of the highly-publicized killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and other people of color, but with the added dimension of her father, Eric, being a longtime and highly-respected Boston police officer.
The CBS video included comments by a couple of her teammates and coach Shauna Green – each telling how the 25-year-old point guard has helped educate them and get them involved.
The piece highlighted Athletes Driving Change, the organization of minority female basketball players Bradshaw launched two years ago and expanded to all the teams in the Atlantic 10 conference in an effort to promote racial and social justice on each of the campuses and the communities they are in.
The video also touched on how she hopes the organization could make lives better for minority girls who will come after her, girls like her two younger sisters, Adrienne and Aubrie.
After the video aired, a CBS panel that included activist Katrina Adams, the former pro tennis player who was the first black president the USTA and is an announcer on the tennis channel; Clark Kellogg, the former Ohio State and NBA standout who is now the lead college basketball analyst for CBS sports and veteran sportswriter and broadcaster Seth Davis all raved about Bradshaw and what she is doing.
A couple of days ago Green spoke about the national spotlight: “I thought it was awesome just to showcase her and what type of person she is and all the stuff she has done.
“And it also showed what we’re about here and how this is bigger than just basketball. We want our student athletes to be involved in as much as they possibly can do on campus and especially in an area they have a passion for – like she does.”
The University the of Dayton could have presented no better representative on the national stage.
While her story goes far beyond her sport, Bradshaw has written some of the most impressive chapters while on the basketball court.
Credit: Erik Schelkun
Credit: Erik Schelkun
After coming out of Tabor Academy in Boston as the No. 32 recruit in the nation, the 5-foot-6 guard played a season at South Carolina, where she was part of the Gamecocks national championship team. She played in 24 games that freshman season – including the national title game – and has a “huge, ginormous” as she called it, championship ring to show for it, even if she has never worn it.
She then transferred to Dayton, took a redshirt year and, thanks to the NCAA giving everyone an extra year due to COVID disruptions, she’s playing her fourth season at UD. She’s started 97 of her 98 games as a Flyer, led them to three straight A-10 championships and is the reigning A-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
Coming into today’s game against Fordham at UD Arena, she leads the 13-3 Flyers in assists and steals and is fourth in scoring and rebounding.
She’s already earned an undergrad degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in engineering management. She’s now halfway through a second master’s in business administration.
Last spring she received the Social Justice Award at the annual R.U.D.Y.s banquet that honors outstanding UD student athletes and teams.
And the Atlantic 10 Conference – where she served on its Commission of Racial Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – named her its co-Woman of the Year.
Just before we spoke couple of days ago, she had been filming a women’s basketball promotion for Black History Month, which begins in nine days.
Again this year, she has designed the new warmup shirts the Flyers team will wear, beginning with their history month tipoff game Feb. 2 against Duquesne at UD Arena.
The new tops will feature an intertwining heart and fist logo made up of names, in varying fonts, of black achievers (people like Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges and Muhammad Ali) as well as some of the victims of police and vigilante violence (including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.)
I asked her what she would say to the controversial Fox TV host Laura Ingraham who said that basketball players like LeBron James and others should not opine on matters beyond sports and instead should just “shut up and dribble.”
Bradshaw thought a moment, then shook her head and said quietly:
“I’d probably not say anything. I don’t think anything I could say would speak more volumes than the work people like me already have done.”
‘She’s helped me grow’
Two years ago when she watched the video of George Floyd dying on a Minneapolis street as a white police officer, ignoring pleas from bystanders, intentionally knelt on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, Bradshaw was numbed to the core.
The murder triggered so many emotions – utter heartbreak, growing anger, overwhelming frustration- and it was even more difficult to grapple with because her dad was a cop.
Eric Bradshaw has been an admired Boston policeman for 33 years now, and he and his wife Kelley taught their five daughters compassion, right from wrong and standing true to your principles.
The other day Bradshaw referred to her dad a her “superhero” and her mom – who she said she talks to two or three times a day by phone – as her “angel on earth.”
After Floyd’s death, she talked to her parents, especially her dad, about her feelings and they had many of the same ones she did. She shared her thoughts with her teammates and coaches, as well, but she did more than that, Green said:
“Most people these days just talk about stuff or complain about issues. You don’t see a lot of young people – or really anyone for that matter – going out and saying, ‘Alright, I don’t like this so I want to change this’ and then following through with it. She put action behind this and started the organization.”
Bradshaw admitted having confidence to step up has come about gradually for her:
“I don’t think you understand your ability or the power of your voice until you see someone else use theirs. Seeing other athletes and people continue to speak out gives you a little kick in the butt to do what you’re supposed to do.”
While she eventually involved athletes at all of the A-10 schools, her real impact is seen among her UD teammates and coaches, who reiterated that in the video:
“She definitely has inspired me to never give up on anything I set my mind to,” said Kyla Whitehead, the Flyers senior forward from Canal Winchester. “I know I can reach out to her and kind of see how she did certain things in order for me to do the same.”
Green has been influenced by Bradshaw, as well:
“For a white woman, I’ve learned so much and have a better understanding. She’s helped me grow better than she will ever know.”
‘I want them to be heard’
While she makes an impact with college players, Bradshaw also hopes her efforts will help young girls like her two sisters back home.
She’s close to her family and said one of her daily calls home comes early in the morning when her mom is dropping her two sisters off at school: “That way I can say ‘Hi!’ to them, too.
“Then my mom and I talk ‘til she gets back home. We literally talk about anything: something we saw on Instagram, something going on in the house, something my little sister said last night, anything.”
She said one of her social awareness efforts is for little sisters to have some different experiences than she did growing up. She often found herself in schools where she was in a small minority and though she said it was not done with malicious intent, she said she often was made to feel different by other kids because of everything from her skin color to the texture of her hair.
When she was little, she remembers other students wanting to touch her hair or they’d just ask a lot of personal questions.
“As a little kid you just feel different. And sometimes you’re uncomfortable.”
“I just want my little sisters to go to school and feel important and not feel like a minority or someone different than everyone else. I want them to be heard and understood and respected.
“That’s part of my education thing here, too. For people to understand what it means to be African American. I don’t say they have to relate to it, but at least try to understand.
“And maybe one day when a little 10-year-old girl has a best friend who is black, they won’t see them as anything different except: ‘That’s my best friend.’”
Some of that may sound Pollyannaish in these divisive times, but Bradshaw is hopeful:
“I don’t feel like any of this is a losing battle. I know there’s always going to be some push back. Some backlash. But I don’t ever think I’m fighting a battle I’m not able to win. And at the end of the day. I know if I can affect one person’s life or 500, my goal is to help change someone’s life.”
Bradshaw credits Green with being “awesome” through all this: “She always says she wants to prepare us for life when basketball is over and she’s held true to that statement by letting me do the things that are important to me.”
And it’s because of the things Bradshaw has done – and continues to do – Green thinks she’ll “leave a legacy” at UD.
In the video, Whitehead sensed that, too:
“There’s a lot of young girls who look up to us, so we want to make sure we hold that image up. When you get here, it doesn’t have to be that you’re just an athlete. You’re more than an athlete. You can be whatever you want. And I think she’s a strong example of that.”
And last Sunday, a national CBS audience likely agreed.
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