Bigger than basketball: Men’s basketball uses platform to tackle social issues


Kent State President Beverly Warren stands with the men’s basketball team and members of the audience during the national anthem as a statement of unity in the face of political turmoil on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016.

Tanner Castora

Editor’s note: Tanner Castora is a guard on the men’s basketball team and a sophomore journalism major. He writes from the perspective of someone directly involved in the stand of unity. 

It’s 2 p.m., five hours before tip-off and time for the Kent State men’s basketball team to have a pregame walk-through and shootaround. There’s a different energy and excitement buzzing among the players.

For the first time, players will walk out of the locker room not suiting up for practice, but for a game — a first chance for us to play in front of fellow students and the first chance to hear the crowd roaring at the sight of a deep three-pointer or tomahawk dunk slammed. The season’s finally here.

We would go on to win that game against Mississippi Valley State University, 93-63, behind redshirt senior Jimmy Hall’s 23 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Senior Deon Edwin added 11 points, but his most impactful contribution came before the clock even started.

Prior to Kent State’s season opener, Edwin met with coach Rob Senderoff about an idea to spread a message of unity. The intention was to rise above all the negativity and show Kent State is better than it, as well as show the color of a person’s skin makes no difference and the country can still be together as one.

For both of our home games this season, we’ve walked into the stands of the M.A.C. Center in search of fans of different races to bring onto the court for the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner.”

“I thought that the statement they made was tremendously positive and one (that) — hopefully — our (whole) community and beyond … can grow from,” Senderoff said. “The biggest thing is understanding that I have a lot of minority males that are playing basketball for me and there’s a lot of discrimination that they face, whether it’s a daily basis or just in part of their lives that they face.”

After some discussion with the team, we agreed to proceed with Edwin’s idea.

“The idea came to me when I saw some athletes making a stand, taking a knee and such (during the national anthem),” Edwin said. “I felt there was a better way. We need to come together. I’m upset about the social injustices happening to blacks, but this is the right time. We need to come together.”

Edwin was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but raised in the British Virgin Islands. He’s the younger brother of former men’s basketball standout Jason Edwin, who graduated in 2005 and led the Flashes in scoring as a senior with 12.2 points per game.

Last season, the younger Edwin was a key player on a 19-13 team, prior to suffering a torn meniscus. Instead of sitting for the rest of the season, he decided to play through it and have surgery once the season ended.

This year, Edwin is one of three seniors whose leadership role has increased on and off the court. He doesn’t have to be reminded. He is well aware.

As the time remaining for pre-game warm-ups began to wind down to just under minute, we locked arms and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with fans during the playing of the national anthem.

Images can be seen of Hall locking arms with Kent State President Beverly Warren, senior Jon Fleming with an African-American woman and junior guard Kevin Zabo with a young white boy who is smiling from ear-to-ear. It’s powerful, it’s moving and it’s different.

There’s a divide in our country currently. One cannot deny this any longer, following this year’s presidential election. The results sparked riots and protests nation-wide of people proclaiming their disgust.

Old scars are reopened, while new ones were formed. The divide is real and growing. Changes need to be made. Minds and attitudes need to be adjusted and actions need to take place.

Over the past months, athletes have protested the national anthem by kneeling, some by raising a fist in the air. But this was unique.This was not a protest.This was a statement, a message. We are all equal. We must come together as one.

“I feel this is a stepping stone,” Edwin said.

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Nick Buzzelli contributed to this story.