If basketball can help raise funds and awareness to combat cancer, why can’t it do the same for social justice issues like racism? Using the Coaches Vs. Cancer program as a model, Executive Director Daryl Woods sees the nonprofit organization Coaches Vs. Racism as a vehicle to drive change.
While he knows it won’t be a layup to unite a divided country, Woods says it’s a chance to travel in the right direction through the world of basketball.
The first step occurs Nov. 13, when the University of Michigan tips off against Prairie View A&M University at Entertainment and Sports Arena, a neutral court in Southeast Washington, D.C. Pitting a Big 10 powerhouse against a successful HBCU team is expected to draw enough eyeballs to generate attention to the larger purpose.
“Racism is like cancer,” says Woods. “We want to see if we can do our small part in helping.”
Michigan is coached by Juwan Howard and Prairie View A&M is led by Byron Smith, who are both Black.
Using sports as a platform for reform is not new. Olympians and pro athletes alike have drawn attention to inequalities in American society, even if it was to the detriment of their career.
Having college basketball as the centerpiece opens up a crucial educational component, notes Woods. He is planning to have D.C.-area youngsters visit the teams during practice. There will be a VIP reception Friday night, as well as a panel discussion on related topics.
In addition to attempting to spark a conversation that may ultimately slow bigotry, another goal is to draw awareness to economic inequality in schools all the way through college. Just having an HBCU school challenge one of the country’s top teams provides an opportunity to showcase historically Black colleges and universities to a wide audience.
While Michigan will be the heavy favorite, Prairie View A&M is a worthy adversary given its experienced squad that made the NCAA Tournament in 2019.
“Many of the athletes at HBCUs have a chip on their shoulder because they were not recruited by the bigger schools,” says Woods. “This does allow them to get on that stage and see what they can do.”
Likewise, the mid-November activities are a chance to show the power of Coaches Vs. Racism. The nation’s capital made sense for the initial contest as it is where legislation is made.
But the movement will not stop there.
Coaches Vs. Racism has already lined up dates for November 2022 in Las Vegas for its next iteration. Houston and Atlanta are considered prime territories for future games. Woods says he’d like to add another game to the agenda and be sure to include women’s basketball teams. He doesn’t want to grow too fast and lose sight of the main objective.
“It’s taken on a whole new life,” explains Woods. “We have room to grow, but we want to take baby steps.”
Woods is smart enough to know tangible results to end racism will take time, but he says the conversations started with events like this game will lay the groundwork for overarching success.
“By working together, and using our collective passion for sports, we hope Coaches Vs. Racism will spark productive conversations to change the narrative about race in sports and serve as a revolutionary voice for change in our society,” he says.