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More than a game: Volleyball works to make a difference through ‘equality’ patches

TCU players don different colored shirts centered around the word “equality.” (Photo courtesy of TCU Volleyball Twitter)

TCU volleyball coach Jill Kramer sees volleyball as more than just hitting a ball back and forth over a net.

Some people call for politics and sports to be separate, but the 11th-year head coach would care to disagree.

“I do feel like, yes, my job as a coach is to make sure that we’re locked in for practice,” Kramer said. “But I don’t ever want to give them the idea that volleyball is more important than anything going on in the outside world.”

Kramer added that she does not see fighting for racial justice in sports as “politics” but more as “people.”

In just a few weeks, the Horned Frogs are scheduled to make their return to the court against the Baylor Bears, one of the nation’s top volleyball programs. While TCU will be seeking a win in their challenging season opener, they will also have a different, bigger topic on their minds: equality.

Per a request made by Kramer and her team, the NCAA has agreed to allow the Horned Frogs to wear a patch reading “equality” on the sleeve of their jerseys. An NCAA rule announced in late July allows for athletes to wear a patch with a social justice message on their uniforms.

TCU Volleyball is looking to emphasize the beauty in differences through “equality” practices. (Photo courtesy of TCU Volleyball Twitter)

“I just think it’s important, because, yes, we are athletes; but at the same time, we can use our voices and our power and stuff like that to promote a change in this world and just support what we believe in,” middle blocker Katie Clark said.

The TCU players voted as a team on “equality” being the cause they wanted to fight for this fall.

To keep her athletes focused on “the bigger picture” until matches begin, Kramer also started what she called “equality practices.” In these Monday practices, players wear different colored shirts that read “equality” on the front. The back of each shirt displays a word or phrase for which each player specifically wants to fight.

Clark wears a pink shirt to represent “love and respecting others.”

“We just really thought it would be cool to all choose our own color and symbolize why or what we wanted to mean with that,” Clark said.

At the end of each equality practice, a group of players called the “equality committee” spends time educating the team on social injustice in America. Some of the news is good, some of it’s bad, but it is all geared toward making the players and coaches more prepared to fight for change.

Kramer pointed out that things like this are important for the future of her players as they move on from TCU and interact with people of all different races, especially with the absence of a professional volleyball league in the United States.

“Most of these young women are coming here to get a degree and go out into the world and be a CEO. To be able to do that, they have to have cultural intelligence.”

Head coach Jill Kramer

The volleyball players have not been the only Horned Frogs to speak out on racial issues in recent months. In early August, TCU football player Kellton Hollins organized the painting of a mural with the words “End Racism” right outside of Amon G. Carter Stadium. The volleyball team was adamant about standing with Hollins, helping to paint the mural and fight for racial justice in America.

“Kellton [Hollins] is very passionate about it [racial justice], and seeing him so passionate just makes me even more passionate about it,” Clark said. “I want to do everything I can for my fellow student-athletes.”

In a year filled with trials and uncertainty, TCU volleyball is certainly not backing down from the challenge of making a difference. While there will always be people who call for players to “stick to the court,” Kramer and the team know the battle they are fighting goes well beyond a round, leather ball.

“You say, ‘Come to the gym. Turn it all off. It all goes away,'” Kramer said. “Well, you know what? It doesn’t. It clearly does not go away. It clearly affects a lot of people’s lives.”

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