Archdeacon: ’This is way more than basketball’

When she watched the video of George Floyd dying in a Minneapolis street as a white police officer – ignoring the handcuffed man’s repeated pleas that he could not breathe – knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, Araion Bradshaw was shaken to the core.

The Dayton Flyers women’s basketball player said her emotions swirled as a fellow person of color was killed once again. She was left heartbroken, angry, frustrated…and one thing more:

“Watching him get murdered, I had all of those feelings and then there was that extra layer with my dad being a cop.”

That especially gnawed at her she said, because “my dad is a great guy. He’s a great cop, He does things the right way. I know there are plenty of cops out there who do it by the book, by the law, and are great pillars of the community.

“But I also know there are others who aren’t doing the right thing, who aren’t good cops, and people are being killed because of it.”

Her dad, Patrolman Eric Bradshaw, a Boston cop for 31 years, was just as troubled when he saw the Floyd video:

“I was sad more than anything. Frustrated, too. But this isn’t just about George Floyd. It goes back to people like Rodney King.

“I’ve had discussions about this with my friends. Some are from the streets, some have done time. Others are in the fire department or they’re corrections officers or other cops. Sure, when you come onto a situation and things are happening, like a fight, you can’t stop and ask ‘Who?’ and ‘What?’ You have to react. But every incident is different and this was different.

“I say you can’t put the shield on first. You gotta put the human on first. And if a human being would think this is wrong, forget what the shield says. That’s what you do for work, but that’s not who you are. Wrong is wrong.

“But until they put people in jail for murdering people who are unarmed, it won’t stop.”

After she saw the video, Araion spoke with her dad.

“I was like, ’Man, I feel horrible. I want to do something, but I don’t know what. I just kept pondering it and all of a sudden I got an ESPN notification about the new group Coaches For Action. I read the article and it hit me: ’This is it! This is something I can do as a student athlete and make a similar impact.”

Coaches For Action is an effort by the 21 minority assistant basketball coaches in the Big East who were inspired to act following the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

They came up with three initiatives that include having a Black Lives Matter patch affixed to the jersey of all Big East players this coming season, a minority scholarship awarded to a first-generation college student at each school and, finally, a voting initiative that will educate players on issues and candidates and get them registered to vote.

“I reached out to those men’s coaches,” Bradshaw said. “I said, ‘What you guys are doing is awesome and it’s inspired me. I want to learn how you got started. I hope you’ll be able to point me in the right direction.’”

She heard back from several of them and was especially helped by Marquette’s Dwayne Killings, as well as Providence’s Ivan Thomas and UConn’s Kimani Young .

Her dad said she contacted athletic directors, too, and she also talked at length to him.

That’s the genesis of her new group: Athletes Driving Change.

“After that I was like, ‘OK, let’s start with the A-10,’” Bradshaw said. “I basically know someone on each team and I reached out to them.

“Usually, as athletes, if we don’t have our sneakers laced up at that moment, we’re not really being talked to. But I said, ‘I know the George Floyd video isn’t just affecting me. It’s affecting a lot of you. This is what I’m thinking, how about you?’”

She got response from across the conference and now George Washington forward Neila Luma will serve as her vice president. GW guard Jasmine Whitney will be the education and involvement chair, while St. Joseph’s forward Gabby Smalls and UD teammate Kyla Whitehead will lead the service and engagement part of the group. VCU guard Taya Robinson will chair the diversity and inclusion segment.

She then sought out Andy Farrell, the special assistant to UD men’s basketball coach Anthony Grant and the Flyers’ recruiting coordinator. He’s heavily involved in the new national group, Coaches 4 Change, and she said he gave her great advice.

She defined her group – an action-based organization led by female basketball athletes in the A-10 who are trying to eliminate social injustice toward people of color – and formed three key points of involvement:

  • Knowing your rights, whether it pertains to routine traffic stops or peaceful protests.
  • Partnering with a voter registration group to educate people and get them registered and out to vote.
  • Launching a Black Lives Matter game for each A-10 team, raising money through free throws made in those games, getting matching funds from the conference and donating it to a social rights group.

She said the league brass is embracing the idea and offering guidance, too.

“Our men’s and women’s basketball teams have a huge platform, a huge voice here in the city of Dayton and she’s using hers,” said UD coach Shauna Green. “It’s pretty impressive what she has done. I couldn’t be more proud of her.

“Of all the accomplishments she had and all the growth she’s made here, this is one of the best.”

Credit: Erik Schelkun/Elsestar Images

Credit: Erik Schelkun/Elsestar Images

And that’s saying something.

Coming out of Tabor Academy in Boston, Bradshaw was rated the No. 32 player in the nation in the Class of 2016. She then came off the bench her freshman year at South Carolina when the Gamecocks won the national title.

After transferring to UD, she sat a year and now has played two seasons, starting 32 games last season and being named to the A-10′s All-Defensive Team.

She graduated in May with a degree in chemical engineering and by next May she said she’ll have her master’s degree in engineering management.

And now she hopes her Athletes Driving Change becomes an influencer on campus and with the youth in the community.

All this has reminded her dad of something that caught him off guard several years ago:

“When she was in high school, we stopped at the gym and a guy came up to me and said, ‘My daughter wants to meet your daughter.’

“I was like ‘What? She’s not some big-time player.’

“But the young girl came up and she told my daughter: ‘I want to be just like you!’

“As a dad, that made me feel real good.”

Credit: Erik Schelkun/Elsestar Images

Credit: Erik Schelkun/Elsestar Images

Renewed confidence

Eric Bradshaw grew up in Boston’s South End.

“It was very diverse then and my best friend was a Chinese kid,” he said. “I remember going to his house and having to take my shoes off first. I’d never experienced that before and I came home and asked my mother and she said, ‘Different cultures have different rules and you respect them.’

“My dad was a truck driver and was gone a lot, so most of our raising fell on her and she didn’t let you treat anybody differently.

“And now that’s carried over to me on the job. You’ve got to do something to me or my family for me not to like you. It’s not gonna be just because of the color of your skin or your sexual preference.”

He joined the Boston police force when he was 23 and in more than three decades he said he’s walked beats and been in patrol cars, always working in the “toughest sections” of Boston.

He’s now stationed in Mattapan, which has a large population of African Americans, Haitians and other Caribbean immigrants.

“I always thought if you can’t help your own people, who are you gonna help?” he said.

His three oldest daughters, Amari, Araion and Ariel – he and wife Kelley also have two younger daughters, 8-year-old Aubrie and 5-year-old Adrian – have often been around his police officer pals, especially when he coached youth groups.

“Araion sees the good they do. Her Uncle Marvin (Wright) -- he’s not blood, but he’s like her godfather – he does a $5,000 scholarship each year for his mother who was murdered. Cops like him are making a difference in the community.”

Amari, who’s now 25, played college basketball at Barry University, a Division II school in Miami, Fla.

As a freshman on the 33-4 South Carolina team that won the crown, Araion played in 28 games, averaging 6.6 minutes and 1 point per contest.

“I think that took some of her moxie, some of her confidence,” her dad said. “She wondered why she wasn’t playing and that messed with her a lot.

“Now she’s really getting back to her old self. Coming to Dayton was the best thing ever for her.”

‘I’m more than an athlete’

Along with the social justice issues playing out across our nation, the other big concern is the COVID-19 pandemic that’s upended so much of life, especially on college campuses and with intercollegiate sports.

“In the months our players weren’t able to be with us physically on campus, we communicated via Zoom, phone calls, FaceTime and texts,” Green said. “It’s been hard though because a lot of our players have been really affected by what’s going on. You wanted to be there for them and reach out and hug them, but you couldn’t. And now that they’re back, we still can’t have that normal contact. We still can’t hug them.”

With players spending a lot of time with each other in their rooms, they’ve done a lot more talking about the issues of the day. That’s been good Bradshaw said.

Green agreed:

“There’s so much more going on now and at some point enough is enough. Something must change. We’ve got to continue to fight for equality for all people and try to eliminate the injustice and the murders that are going on.

“This is way more than basketball. To tell the truth, basketball right now is the least of our worries.”

The women’s team has met several times via Zoom calls with the UD men’s team to talk through the issues. And Green said they have listened to various speakers, from local police officers and lawyers to Dayton mayor and UD grad Nan Whaley.

Across the country athletes have suddenly found a voice whether it’s Florida State football players threatening to boycott after the head coach misrepresented his social justice dealings or Iowa players going public with racial disparities in their program that forced a strength coach to be put on administrative leave.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, with his 500,000 Instagram followers, organized an on-campus demonstration to protest police brutality, Texas, Tennessee and South Carolina players marched and Pac-12 players demanded racial and economic equality and better safety practices.

Eleven days ago, after Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a policeman in Kenosha Wis., the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to play a playoff game in protest. Soon the rest of the NBA, the WNBA, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, women’s tennis and the National Hockey League followed suit.

As athletes have used their platform and spoken out, they’ve been criticized by some: Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, co-owner of the WNBA Atlanta Dream, has spoken out repeatedly against the Black Lives Matter movement that the women pros have embraced.

And Fox-TV host Laura Ingraham famously told LeBron James to “shut up and dribble!”

UD guard Ibi Watson said the “shut-up” call is “just ignorance.”

Bradshaw agreed, but said: “I’ll say exactly what LeBron said: ‘I’m more than athlete.’”

She said: “I have two little sisters and they look up at me like I’m the Holy Grail. I look at them the same. They are my biggest inspirations to push for change. I want to make sure whatever they experience is better than what I’ve faced.

“If I can make the world a little better for them and for other kids, that’s what I’m going to do.

“With me, all this started after George Floyd was murdered. It was tough to watch and tough to gather my emotions afterwards. But the one thing that really pushed me forward was when I heard his daughter say: ‘My dad changed the world.’

“I thought, ’Man, if there’s anything for me to focus on from this horrible situation, it’s that.

“Now, I’ve got to do everything I can to make sure that happens.”

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