Men’s Basketball Alumni Featured in New Nike Commercial
COLCHESTER, Vt. – Four Saint Michael’s College men’s basketball alumni will see themselves on television screens nationwide when Nike unveils its latest commercial in the inspirational “You Can’t Stop Us” national ad campaign on Thursday evening. The ad features numerous recognizable professional athletes overcoming obstacles, breaking stereotypes, persevering through COVID-19, and speaking out for social justice.
The commercial is already available on Nike’s social media platforms and will make its television debut later on Thursday. View the ad on Nike’s YouTube channel here: https://tinyurl.com/SMCNike
Derek Cheatom ’19, Jaylen Hall ’19, Levi Holmes III ’19 and Winston Jones II ’19 were among a contingent of Purple Knights who kneeled during the national anthem before their exhibition game at the University of Vermont’s Patrick Gymnasium on Nov. 4, 2017. The quartet will be briefly featured through footage shot by WPTZ-TV, the Burlington area’s NBC affiliate.
Kneeling during the national anthem in protest against racism has become widespread in pro sports of late, with numerous leagues displaying their support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement through pre-event silent protest and imaging and messaging throughout games. “Being a part of this commercial is so surreal,” said Jones, a public advocate for racial equality during his time on campus. “I’m proud of us for standing for something beyond ourselves, and clearly Nike respects that greatly.”
Early adopters of what has become a widespread gesture of support for BLM, members of the men’s basketball team drafted a statement shortly after the UVM game in 2017. “We took a knee to draw attention to the daily injustices that African Americans face due to the color of our skin. … We want to make it clear that the kneeling has nothing to do with the flag or the military. We are proud citizens of the United States and we love our country. … Many African Americans feel the effects of racism every day, and this protest brings this issue to the forefront where it belongs so we as a country can address it. … A lot of people might think our platform is too small, but that’s not the point. We would have kneeled if there were 20 people in the stands or 2,000. Our goal was to bring awareness to the situation like other athletes have been doing with their respective platforms. … We are all proud Americans who want to see change brought to certain situations, and we hope that protesting like we did helps bring about that change.”
Each of the four alumni said this week that there is still progress to be made. “Honestly, I hadn’t seen much change until the events occurred with George Floyd,” said Holmes. “Up until then, I feel as though the racial injustices continued to be swept under the rug. The horrible events that occurred in 2020 really put these injustices in the spotlight and put pressure on society to change. It’s hard to see the effects of racial injustices when you don’t live through it or witness it firsthand. Thankfully we have social media to bridge that gap and reach the audience that is unable to see the social injustices here in America.”
In December 2017, Jones was joined by faculty, staff and Chris Boutin ’18 on a panel to discuss the kneeling. Boutin, a thrice-deployed Marine Corps and Vermont Army National Guard veteran, was vice president of the College’s chapter of the Student Veterans of America at the time, and represented a deep military history at the institution. “Speaking for myself but not all veterans, I feel I fought for everyone’s rights – I fought for people to exercise their freedom of speech,” he says now. “My take on it was I didn’t disagree with the message, I was empathetic to the side that said ‘I don’t like this happening at sporting events,’ but also wondered where else this could have worked, where they would have had that kind of platform. I think demonstrations like that are even more needed now.”
Social justice is ingrained in the history of Saint Michael’s College. Founded by the Society of Saint Edmund, which operated the only hospital that treated black marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge during Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala., in 1965, the College continues sending service trips to the city through the Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts (MOVE). The Center for Multicultural Affairs and Martin Luther King Jr. Society have hosted the campus-wide MLK Convocation for nearly three decades, and the community recently took part in two more events aimed to educate on inclusion and racial equality: a Day of Learning and Reflection in February and the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge in July.
Father Ray Doherty ’51, S.S.E., not only the 2019 Saint Edmund’s Medal of Honor recipient but also a former Purple Knight baseball player and staff sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, shared his thoughts back in 2017. “Racism is an ugly evil, condemned by the Catholic Church and recently referred to by Pope Francis as a sin. I expect that we all should be opposed to evil and sin. The ‘taking a knee’ is a symbolic thing, done peacefully within one’s constitutional rights, and I would hesitate to judge that the intention of anyone using this symbol is to disrespect God or nation. Surely, my Irish grandparents, immigrants from Ireland, as well as my own native-born parents, were subject to racism and discrimination because they were Irish and Catholic, so I can sympathize with any person or persons who experience discrimination and any form of injustice.”
Men’s basketball alumnus Jason Curry ’95 has been an outspoken and ardent supporter of the team since the players kneeled at UVM. “I’m not sure how the public’s view on kneeling has changed over the past three years, but I’m glad to see in 2020 the focus is more on improving the issues of police brutality, racial injustices and social change. I love seeing professional athletes, college athletes, and people around the world fight for the rights of blacks in relation to so many injustices we’ve had to endure. It’s extremely admirable of athletes to use their platform confidently to affect change. I am ecstatic to see the Purple Knights recognized on a national platform for the courageous stance they took a few years ago. It represents a transformation on how our culture has grown to accept their vision. I’m extremely proud to be a Purple Knight alumnus knowing that our college values us as people more than athletes.”
In Their Own Words
Levi Holmes III ’19
The most important concept we wanted to exhibit during our demonstration was to somehow show we are together. Not everyone had to kneel, but we locked arms to show that we had each other’s backs and respected each other’s decisions regardless of different opinions. Honestly, I hadn’t seen much change until the events occurred with George Floyd. Up until then, I feel as though the racial injustices continued to be swept under the rug. The horrible events that occurred in 2020 really put these injustices in the spotlight and put pressure on society to change. It’s hard to see the effects of racial injustices when you don’t live through it or witness it firsthand. Thankfully we have social media to bridge that gap and reach the audience that is unable to see the social injustices here in America.
When we knelt, I don’t think any of us would have thought that our actions would reach outside of Vermont. We faced a lot of criticism immediately after we knelt, and I’m sure that will happen after this commercial too. However, it’s reassuring to know that there are more people that have our backs and stand with us on this issue. This is a very powerful commercial, and I think it is a great initiative to continue to make America a better place for all citizens. As of now, I’m living in New Jersey and working until the semester starts. This is my last year of my master’s program at Columbia University, and after this I’m off to the real world.
Winston Jones II ’19
As a black player in a predominantly white institution as well as state, I felt it was important to show my own awareness and willingness to use my platform for more than just basketball. My goal was to show the awareness and then have the dialogue and reform follow. Since then, I have seen some significant secular changes in regards to people being more receptive of the Black Lives Matter moment. I think people are understanding this isn’t a fad or trend, but rather a way of life. However, I believe there have also been opposing forces that have caused some stagnation in terms of reform. But this was to be expected when challenging over 400 years’ worth of injustices.
Since graduating, I’ve recently become a teaching assistant as well as basketball coach in New York. Along with coaching and teaching, I have also been able to explore furthering my education in the field of psychology and social work as well as exploring modeling opportunities. Being a part of this commercial is so surreal. It’s a dream come true for any person who’s a fan of Nike, but especially athletes like ourselves. I’m proud of us for standing for something beyond ourselves, and clearly Nike respects that greatly.
Derek Cheatom ’19
As a team we talked to each other and shared each other’s background about how we felt about kneeling. Once we were all on the same page, we decided that as a team we would lock arms showing that we were all united. I think that was the most important part of our message, that a diverse team could show solidarity even if someone didn’t want to kneel. I honestly don’t think the world has changed much since we took a knee. I believe that more people have been talking about the problems, but talking isn’t enough. I love that people are protesting nowadays and standing up for what they believe in and standing up for their rights. People are starting to be more comfortable with this conversation, I think. It is a very difficult conversation to have because we come from many different backgrounds.
I think it would be really cool to be in any commercial, but it feels better being in a commercial that has a meaning behind it. It’s nice knowing that this commercial will be spreading a message to the world. I’m currently living and working in Buffalo. I’m waiting for the police academy to call me so I can start my training for that.
Jaylen Hall ’19
Taking a knee brought awareness to the things that are happening to black people, and it is really hard to stand for something that doesn’t recognize that. When we took a knee in the fall of 2017, nothing really changed. The same things were happening in society, and people weren’t taking it seriously. People look at us and everyone who takes a knee as disrespectful people when none of us mean disrespect at all. Not until this year do I feel the BLM message has spread globally, and a lot of people are seeing the light on what is really happening in our country every day.
I am living back home in Chicago and before COVID-19 I was taking time off, traveling and spending time with family. I started an e-commerce store in May and have been managing that since. I feel honored to be a part of this commercial because I know we were among the first people not on a national level to keep Colin Kaepernick’s movement going. So for that to be shown in a commercial on a global scale, it is really inspiring.