MISSOULA — The old cliché is actions speak louder than words, and the Montana men's basketball team is combining both to share a bigger message heading into 2021.
Through their eight games so far this season, the Griz have sported the word "solidarity" on the backs of their game jerseys as a way to keep the conversation going about racial inclusion and equality after protests over the summer surrounding the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, solidarity is defined as "unity (as a group or class) that produces or is based on a community of interests, objectives, and standards."
"The biggest thing for our group was coming together," Griz coach Travis DeCuire said about the jersey decision. "That's what I've always felt this country was missing. I had some conversations with some other coaches nationally, some of my peers and some people I look up to. Perspective, right? One of the things a lot of us did in athletics was share perspective.
"At the end of the day, the most important thing about surviving 2020 and the things that we've experienced in 2020, is coming together and creating common goals and having a common destination in terms of where we want to be as people, and that's been missing in the United States."
DeCuire said the team came together on the message of "solidarity" after weighing a couple of options. Some of their ideas and conversations also stemmed from the athletic department. DeCuire said UM president Seth Bodnar has been "very active" with athletics and the men's basketball program in terms of dialogue and their mission. The athletic department created a Diversity & Inclusion Committee in September that features sophomore forward Kyle Owens and associate head basketball coach Chris Cobb, among other student-athletes, staff and coaches.
𝗦𝗼𝗹𝗶𝗱𝗮𝗿𝗶𝘁𝘆 [ sol-i-dar-i-tee ] 𝘯𝘰𝘶𝘯: an awareness of shared interests, objectives, standards, and sympathies creating a psychological sense of unity of groups or classes.#GrizHoops #GoGriz pic.twitter.com/V0lg8I0RSr
— Montana Griz BB (@MontanaGrizBB) December 24, 2020
"As the athletic department started developing programs, our guys became more vocal outside of our group and outside of our locker room, and that's really how I came up with the word solidarity," DeCuire said.
DeCuire said he got the idea from Missouri basketball coach Cuonzo Martin, who, like DeCuire, has been vocal about racial injustice since Floyd's death. DeCuire said the two have had multiple conversations over the past year, and Martin brought up the word solidarity frequently.
"It really stuck with me and I thought it was very fitting for where our country, where our individual communities and where our community needs to be," DeCuire said. "So I thought it was fitting to have on the back of our jerseys."
DeCuire spoke at length with MTN Sports over the summer at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests. The first Black head coach of any sport, male or female, at Montana or Montana State, DeCuire said it was important to continue preaching that message as time goes on and using actions to keep that conversation going after the protests ultimately ended. He noted how the men's basketball team had a 100 percent voter turnout in November, saying that was Step 1, with the next goal being to spread that information to someone who might not have had it before.
"An opinion doesn't go very far if it's not executed," DeCuire said. "It's easy to complain or make comments about things that are going on that you might not agree with, but it's another thing to act.
"Rather than make comments, why not come up with ideas of things that become the solutions? And so to me, if you're solution-oriented, you're helping the situation in every aspect of life. And we can go off-topic and say within athletics, in a timeout, I can go into a timeout and tell my team exactly what they're not doing, but if I don't tell them how to do it, nothing is going to change. And that was the biggest thing to me was, I wanted to see as many people around me that I communicated with and play a role with be a part of the solution, and that is really the biggest thing for me and I've seen that. ... We just need to continue to do that. It doesn't end with voting, it doesn't end with one idea that leads to a solution. I think this is something that is supposed to continue and really is what the United States is supposed to be about, right? If the word 'united' is going to be at the front end of the name of a country, then we need to unite, and part of that is being together on our mission."
The Griz men (3-5, 0-2 Big Sky) start conference play back up on Saturday and Monday with two games against Northern Colorado. Tipoff for Saturday's contest is at 5 p.m. in Missoula.