NAACP calls for Black student-athletes to boycott universities in Florida over DEI policy

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The NAACP is urging Black student-athletes to boycott Florida universities after the University of Florida terminated all diversity, equity and inclusion positions on campus. 

The university’s decision follows a new state policy that prohibits public and state institutions from using government funds on equity and inclusion programs. 

“This is not about politics,” the letter, sent Monday, reads. “It’s about the protection of our community, the progression of our culture, and most of all, it’s about your education, and your future.”

The letter continued, “This is not simply about sports; it’s about acknowledging and advocating for the rights and supports of Black students within educational environments.”

The letter is signed by Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, and Leon W. Russell, chairman of the NAACP’s national board of directors. 

They state that Florida’s new DEI stance follows a line of anti-Black policies enacted by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. They add that DeSantis “has made no effort to conceal his administration’s devaluation of Black America” and is now waging a war on Black America. 

“Florida’s rampant anti-Black policies are a direct threat to the advancement of our young people and their ability to compete in a global economy,” Johnson in a statement. 

“The value Black and other college athletes bring to large universities is unmatched,” he added. “If these institutions are unable to completely invest in those athletes, it’s time they take their talents elsewhere.”

The University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of South Florida have some of the most prominent football and basketball programs in the country, generating more than $177 million in revenue between July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022, according to the Department of Education. 

But Florida isn’t the only Republican-led state pushing back on “woke” programs such as DEI initiatives. 

An NBC News analysis found that GOP lawmakers in more than 30 states have introduced or passed more than 100 bills to either restrict or regulate DEI efforts this legislative season. 

And some of these laws target schools. 

Last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law ordering state-funded colleges to shut down their DEI offices. 

As these efforts to limit DEI have spread, some have expressed concerns about the impact on students. 

In February, Randall Woodfin, the mayor of Birmingham, Ala., said on Facebook that if his state passed a bill to block funding for DEI in public colleges, he would encourage student-athletes to look at schools outside his state “where diversity and inclusion are prioritized.”

Still, University of Florida’s decision has drawn swift criticism, including from alumni. 

NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith posted on X that he is “utterly disgusted” by his alma mater and the precedent it has set. 

Ashley L. White, education fellow at the NAACP, said that Black America drives the growth and prosperity of American culture — particularly in educational institutions. 

“Colleges seeking to benefit from Black talent must invest in the education of all Black students without question,” said White. “Promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and access across colleges and universities is paramount in cultivating excellence.”

The letter acknowledged that sports scholarships may stop some from participating in the boycott. It noted that, for some Black student athletes, participating in a college team may be their only way to achieve “the upward mobility necessary to propel them into their rightful places in society.”

“This imbalance of power and profit demands a response, particularly because these institutions reap considerable financial benefits from the very individuals they fail to stand by in matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the letter said. “If any institution is to reap the benefits of Black talent, it is only right that they completely invest in Black futures.”

But the NAACP added that the burden is not only on Black students. 

“UF, and other public institutions, have the opportunity to be more than a sports powerhouses,” the organization said. “They can be leaders in fostering a wholly supportive educational environment for all students. Until that happens, it’s up to each individual — and to the broader community — to hold these institutions accountable.”

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