Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography
NOTE: This interview was conducted before further information about UND Freshman Mitchell Miller and his abhorrent repeated bullying of his African-American classmate in his high school, Isaiah Meyer-Crothers. This bullying included repeated acts of physical violence towards him we chose not to repeat, along with Miller routinely using the N-word and more racial slurs towards him. Miller and his classmate performed 25 hours of community service and wrote a court mandated apology to Isaiah. At the time of writing this article, Miller is still a candidate to represent the United States at the World Junior Championship in Edmonton this winter. We will have more about this story to come, but felt it necessary to note the horrid actions of Miller, and the lack of any form of apparent long term restitution to Isaiah and his family on his part, and the utter lack of transparency given by US Hockey, his HoneyBaked team, the NHL, multiple USHL organizations, the league itself, the Arizona Coyotes, and the University of North Dakota to be more transparent with any discipline Miller has been given. In UND’s statement, not once is Isaiah’s name mentioned. Hopefully that changes soon.
We will write more about this in the days ahead.
With that said here is our piece talking with senior leader Jasper Weatherby on concrete changes and views he wanted to talk to us about.
The piece written by the Grand Forks Herald’s Brad Schlossman on the background of San Jose Sharks’ Draft pick and one of the leaders of the Fighting Hawks’ Men’s Hockey team, Jasper Weatherby seemed to focus on his family background, which is quite important and helped guide some of these questions we asked him. We plan on interviewing administrators, coaches, and others in positions of power in the game of men’s college hockey and beyond to find out the long lasting changes brought about by the never ending quest that events this summer, including the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, have brought to bear. That is, people of color, especially black people, being killed or having worse interactions with law enforcement for comparably similar issues.
We wanted to ask Jasper these questions because he is in a unique spot as one of the leaders of this team, on this campus, in this state to use his platform to make and inspire change. While we know anyone can use their platform to say how big of an ally they are, too often those same people turn around and make misguided and xenophobic remarks a few days later, and holding people with privaledge and power accountable in this game, and in other avenues, we think, is a better way to provide more transperancy and give all people, especialy Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BiPOC) a better guide of where people stand on doing what we belive to be the right thing.
That is standing up to ensure that we as a country can get a little closer to living up to the ideals that all people are created equal, some of what Jasper touches on in this goes to that end. If you want more of a background on the NCHC Diversity committee Jasper mentions, go read the wonderful work composed by Jashvina Shah on this new committee, and buy the book she is cowriting with Evan Moore that aims to bring light to the inherent inequalities in all levels of hockey, toxicity in hockey culture, and much more about where we go from here.
Jasper is in a leadership role for the Fighting Hawks on these important issues as he notes:
“I’m a member of the SAID (Student Athlete Inclusion and Diversity) group here on campus. I’m also the NCHC player rep for the College Hockey Social Justice Committee. Which is a group put together by college hockey, with members from every league, men and woman’s, across college hockey. We are working on our goals of making not only hockey but our society’s more diverse and inclusive. I’ve also been pushing UND hockey to be 100% behind social justice with the goal to make BlPoC feel at home on this campus.”
In addition, as Jasper notes he is working with student athletes across the department, including leaders like Jaxson Turner on the football team to bring about change. ” I have reached out to some of my friends on the football team here at UND. The biggest message was to encourage all teams, coaches, team managers, players, etc to post about topics relating to social justice on social media. They said It’s time UND joined the fight. I 100% agree with that and have brought that up with the UND athletics department.”
Next, Jasper notes his support for going on record and encouraging UND Men’s Hockey fans to stop uttering phrases that are derogatory like “Sioux Forever.”
“The goal is for every BlPoC to feel safe here in the U.S. and to also have language that makes them feel like they’re not being put down. For me this is not my call, we need to listen to the Sioux tribes/Sioux people. If they are uncomfortable with the word and feel it brings them down than absolutely. I know we have tremendous respect for the entire Sioux and Indian tribes as well as all Indian people.”
In an immediate concern, Jasper noted his support for using the Ralph as a polling place, since this interview was done the Fighting Hawks have gotten a schedule and know a bit more about their season. That being said, his answer here should provide guidance going forward for this athletic department.
” I have brought this up to the athletic department. Unfortunately, I know we are in the middle of trying to figure out where our season will be played, so the timing is not perfect. But in the future, I would love the Ralph to open up as a polling place. So many disadvantaged Americans can’t vote because of limited access to voting. And if the ralph could help this out it would be an amazing accomplishment for the rink. “
Jasper then went on to note support for student-athletes choosing to peaceful protest with actions like kneeling. Keep this answer in mind as the season starts for all UND Sports. What stands out here is his direct rebuttal of the red-herring argument of “disrespect” detractors of peaceful protest often like to use.
” I will absolutely support them [student-athletes] and I believe the coaching staff will support them as well. I’ve encouraged the University of North Dakota Athletics Department to send out a message saying we are behind any student athlete who chooses to partake in a peaceful protest, whether this be kneeling for the anthem, a raised fist, etc. If it’s peaceful, the University should stand behind those athletes. With that being said I think a lot of people think it’s disrespectful to the troops. It is absolutely not. We have so much respect for the troops. What people are kneeling for is what the troops have been fighting for. Freedoms to express yourself, freedom to choose your religion, freedom to walk with a hoodie on or any other freedoms that so many minorities are not free to do. That’s why people are peacefully protesting.”
Weatherby then went on to discuss specific actions he would like to see all on or around the team should be taking to make the Ralph a fundamentally more inclusive place than it currently is for those who are BiPOC.
” Encourage all teams, coaches, team managers, players, etc. to post about topics relating to social justice on social media.
Encourage more people of color to attend hockey games. We need to make sure we do everything we can to make BIPoC feel safe at our events. A minority student reached out to me and said the one thing that really made her feel included on this campus was attending hockey games with everyone else. She said it was a time where she felt like everyone rallied together and it didn’t matter who you were as long as you were cheering for North Dakota. This is powerful, this is something we should be taking advantage of at every opportunity. This is something I have brought up with the Athletic Department.
Another thing: If UND teams play in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, coaches are encouraged to take their players and staff to visit the place George Floyd was murdered. This will be a great opportunity for UND to show its students what is happening around the world. Encourage student athletes to share experience on social media.
Encourage teammates to wear patches on their uniforms. Patches or phrases on uniforms might not go very far in terms of eradicating racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQ policies, etc., but they may raise awareness and show fans that student-athletes are fighting for a better world. Even a moment of silence might be helpful.”
Jasper then went on to discuss changes in his own life that he has made and why the Black Lives Matter movement means so much to him.
“I’ve been constantly educating myself, as I said I’ve been working with several groups locally and on a national scale. It’s also very important for us to listen to those people who have been experiencing those hardships for so long and listen to what they think would help.
“It’s important to me because I have a black brother, I’ve seen how he has been racially profiled, and I will continue to fight for his rights until we are seen AND treated as equals in this country.”
After noting the strong support he has from his family and the coaching staff, he ended with noting that, from this point in our history, that, “I think we listen, we educate ourselves and those around us. The only true change is too look inside and see how each of us can help to create change in a positive way.”