Virginia uses sports to promote healing

The University of Virginia did not ask to become ground zero for the groups creating social divides in the United States. By all accounts, the venerable state institution of higher learning just wants to educate and inspire young minds. Unfortunately, due to events beyond the University’s control, faculty and staff, students, and even sports team players are being connected to the violence that began at the campus in Charlottesville.

In an effort to push back on the current narrative, UVA decided to use college football to send a message of inclusion and acceptance, beginning with the home opener against William & Mary.

The Need to Win

The campaign will go by the name “HoosTogether,” playing on the nickname of the college. The players themselves say they hope their efforts will inspire the community to continue to come together, to get past the racial tension that tore at the heart of the community and sent the country into a weeks-long debate about social relations in modern America.

The players are certain of one thing: they need to win. And not just this game. Nothing captures the attention of a city or a community like a winning football team. Suddenly, few other things matter as a team finds success on the football field.

UVA Athletic Director Craig Littlepage says the school is working to promote love, diversity, and inclusion. Part of these efforts will include wearing a patch encouraging fans and viewers to get involved in the HoosTogether campaign.

UVA quarterback Kurt Benkert is on the same page as his AD, saying, “On (game day), I won’t be thinking about it too much, to be honest… But leading up to it, I think it’s always something that’s in the back of our mind.”

Competition is Valued

While it may not be “fair” to expect a young adult student-athlete to carry that level of pressure on his shoulders, such is the impact potential of college football, thanks to the place it holds in American culture.

Very few enterprises in the United States approach the scope and influence of NCAA college football. And, while no one expects the University of Virginia to compete for a national title, at least this season, everyone who suits up in that team’s uniform understands the attention their school will be getting this season.

There will be added attention and expectations on this team, which literally and figuratively represents the university throughout the season, on and off the field. Officials and fans will expect these young people to lead by example … and that gives them a tremendous opportunity and a serious responsibility. Benkert believes his team is up to the challenge.

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