CU football players lead peaceful protest

By Eric Sprott

Courtesy The Journal

CLEMSON — On Saturday evening, approximately 3,000 people — nearly all of them dressed in black — gathered on Bowman Field and later took to the streets in the name of change.

For Darien Rencher — one of four members of the Clemson football team who helped organize the Clemson Community Peaceful Demonstration — the moment overwhelmed him when he addressed the crowd after the march made ended back on Bowman.

“This is beyond what I could have imagined,” he said. “I just keep looking around. I’ve gotten teary-eyed a bunch of times.

“This really is just beautiful.”

The two-hour event was the brainchild of linebacker Mike Jones Jr., quarterback Trevor Lawrence, wide receiver Cornell Powell and Rencher, who all felt compelled to do their part to elicit change in the wake of George Floyd’s death on Memorial Day while in police custody in Minneapolis.

Protests against systemic racism and in support of racial equality have been held around the globe in the wake of the death of Floyd — a black man who was being held on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill. The white police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes despite his cries that he couldn’t breathe has since been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, while three other officers on the scene also face charges.

On Saturday, an eight-minute moment of silence was held to honor Floyd prior to a march that went through campus and eventually the downtown area, with many of the peaceful protesters carrying signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe,” among many others.

Rencher, Lawrence and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney spoke following the march — Clemson University Police Chief Greg Mullen also addressed the crowd and called for change on Saturday — while the crowd sang “Amazing Grace” to close out the event.

“Today, I have hope,” Jones said. “Two months ago, if somebody would’ve asked me if we could get a diverse group like this to come together and talk about issues facing the black community, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible.”

Swinney said Saturday he initially wasn’t aware of the struggles faced by his players on their own campus and wholeheartedly supports the movement both on the home front and beyond.

“This is a historic time, and a challenging time, but as I tell my team all the time, challenge is what creates change,” Swinney said. “I believe with all my heart that God stopped the world in 2020 so we would have perfect vision and clearly see the social and racial injustices, and the changes that need to occur in our society.

“I’m embarrassed to say that there’s things on this campus I didn’t really understand. I knew the basics but not the details. But I’ve learned and I’ve listened.”

The march came a day after Clemson trustees voted to rename its honors college, stripping from the program the name of former vice president and slavery proponent John C. Calhoun.

Calhoun, who was born in South Carolina, declared slavery a “positive good” on the U.S. Senate floor in 1837.

Prior to the trustees’ vote, an online petition by students calling for the name to be changed drew more than 20,000 signatures. Clemson football alumni and current NFL stars DeAndre Hopkins — a Daniel High School graduate — and Deshaun Watson voiced support for the petition on social media, and Swinney supported them Saturday.

“They both brought us a lot of joy,” Swinney said. “We should no longer expect them or our players to hear our cheers if we do not hear their cries.”