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FGCU unveils Eagles Against Injustice initiative, T-shirt to support social justice issues

Greg Hardwig
Naples Daily News

About six weeks ago, former FGCU basketball star Zach Johnson started a bit of a Twitter firestorm when he said that his alma mater had not been vocal enough regarding the Black Lives Matter movement.

After the tweets from Johnson and others, FGCU athletic director Ken Kavanagh did make a statement that the school did support the movement and had been having internal meetings on the subject.

In an interview soon after, Kavanagh reiterated what he had said, that meetings and town halls continued regarding social and racial injustice, and had ramped up since student-athletes returned to campus. 

But with fall sports canceled, no announcements had been made.

"We wanted in some instances for the students to be back to start school, and in turn, we have new student-athletes that wouldn't have been part of any dialogue in the past because they wouldn't have been here," Kavanagh said.

The front of the FGCU T-shirt Eagles Against Injustice, which is part of a new social and racial injustice initiative started by the Fort Myers university. Student-athletes approved the design. Players, coaches and staff will be given the T-shirts, and they also will be on sale for $10 at Alico Arena.

With basketball starting official practice next week, and games five weeks away, FGCU announced Wednesday that assistant athletic director for business development Jeremy Boreland will also serve as the Eagles' Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. 

The school also announced its Eagles Against Injustice initiative this week that includes a T-shirt designed by FGCU student-athletes that they will wear, and also will be for sale for $10. The shirt has a logo on the front, and then Black Lives Matter going from top to bottom on the back. Coaches and staff also will be given the T-shirts, which are available for sale in person at Alico Arena for $10 by placing an order with Boreland at 590-1491 or jboreland@fgcu.edu.

Funds raised from T-shirt sales will go to the Sustaining Flight Fund, another recent announcement that benefits FGCU student-athletes to help offset revenue losses to the coronavirus pandemic. The Sustaining Flight Fund was created in part because the athletic department's major fundraiser, the Night at the Nest, also will not take place in the manner it has in the past.

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More:FGCU responds after former hoops star Zach Johnson says school not vocal enough for BLM cause

Boreland, who joined the athletic department in 2015, already had a major role as part of the Athletics Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which has existed since 2010, and the Minority Leadership Group. His new position will just make it more official, and he also will serve as the point person for those groups. 

The back of the FGCU T-shirt Eagles Against Injustice, which is part of a new social and racial injustice initiative started by the Fort Myers university. Student-athletes approved the design. Players, coaches and staff will be given the T-shirts, and they also will be on sale for $10 at Alico Arena.

Kavanagh said the frequency of meetings of those groups — albeit virtually due to the pandemic — have increased as the year has gone on. 

"It is an honor to work with our student-athletes and these standing committees to help FGCU be a leader in each of these areas," Boreland said in a release Wednesday. "Having worked with both the committee groups and then witnessing what our student-athletes want to accomplish to make the community better for all is inspiring and humbling."

Student-athletes had a voice in the athletic department through the Eagles Council and the Student Advisory Council, and now they will in a new subcommittee for diversity inclusion called Eagles United, which will be small group sessions of student-athletes with members of the coaching and administration staffs to discuss issues affecting them. 

FGCU's Tyra Cox drives by a North Florida defender during an ASUN semifinal Thursday at Alico Arena.

"It is so comforting to know that my fellow student-athletes are willing to join hands in uniting against social injustices," women's basketball junior Tyra Cox said. "There is strength in numbers and embracing our differences is the first step in creating change."  

"Symbols bring meaning to situations and that's exactly what the Eagles Against Injustice logo and T-shirt does," said men's soccer senior Gustavo Vasconcelos, who is from Brazil. "We are advocating for a highly important matter and I believe these symbols represent that we are united as one Eagle family in creating a better world."

Kavanagh stressed previously that any initiative should be inclusive and not divisive, and was supportive of the direction of the new initiatives.

"It's primarily on social justice issues, but for that matter, it could be other issues with other elements of society," Kavanagh said of Eagles United. "We wanted a title that really was broad."

Kavanagh mentioned such issues as sex trafficking and hunger, pointing out that former President Wilson Bradshaw's wife had started the university's food bank.

The bottom line, though, is creating opportunities for everyone to interact and learn from one another.

"Education is part of what we should all do when we're trying to get a better understanding," Kavanagh said. "We're at a school of higher education and that's our responsibility to educate our students within our means."

Those means have been greatly affected by the pandemic. College athletic departments across the country have had layoffs, furloughs, and even eliminated sports. Kavanagh, which estimated nearly 150 schools have taken those measures,  projects a 16 percent loss of revenue, and that's with the unknown of what a basketball season could look like if there is an outbreak and games end up being canceled.

"That's just part of where it is right now," Kavanagh said. "Thankfully we don't have the overhead of football.

"We're still hoping that we can avoid additional elements of lost revenues. We don't know what's going to happen during the basketball season. (The Sustaining Flight Fund) is to stem the tide, and to try to get us ready for next year."

FGCU athletic director Ken Kavanagh has been in that role since 2009.

The other unknown Kavanagh has to deal with is if off-campus recruiting is re-established. Coaches haven't been able to recruit in person for months due to the pandemic, so there have been some savings with no traveling, and the number of games other sports will end up playing. Fall sports such as men's and women's cross country, men's and women's soccer, and women's volleyball were postponed due to the pandemic, with the plan to play some semblance of those seasons in the spring.

And the major revenue generator FGCU does not have control over is whether the NCAA men's basketball tournament will be played. TV revenue from that brings in huge dollars for the country's athletic departments. The 2019-20 tournament was canceled in March.

"This is probably going to be at least a multi-year hit for everybody in some way," Kavanagh said.

Greg Hardwig is a sports reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @NDN_Ghardwig, email him at ghardwig@naplesnews.com. Support local journalism with this special subscription offer at https://cm.naplesnews.com/specialoffer/