A group formed by USC to combat racial inequality within its athletic department began to take shape Tuesday, as the university announced former Los Angeles Sparks coach Julie Rousseau will chair its Black Lives Matter Action Team.
The team was initially announced by athletic director Mike Bohn in June, in response to the formation of the United Black Student-Athletes Assn. In a letter sent to Bohn, the UBSAA urged “USC and USC Athletics to take bold, decisive action to combat racial inequality and support Black students.”
Rousseau, a USC adjunct professor, will work alongside an advisory committee of athletes, coaches and staff members. A steering committee that includes Bohn, as well as several other members of USC’s senior athletics staff, will assist in implementation of any reforms the group pinpoints.
Several potential reforms were identified in the UBSAA’s June letter to Bohn, including hiring more Black candidates for jobs in the athletics department and requiring implicit bias training of all athletes and staff.
The group also called for USC to provide assurances that athletes would be “free to speak out, post on social media, and participate in protests and public demonstrations without fear of any retaliation.”
This week, a group of Pac-12 football players sent a list of demands to the conference regarding safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice. They have threatened to boycott practices and games.
No USC players were listed on the group’s initial demand letter, but a second letter, sent to Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, included USC defensive back Chase Williams. Several players also communicated their support on social media with posts declaring #WeAreUnited.
A letter of response from Scott pointed to the formation of the conference’s own “social justice & anti-racism advisory group that includes student-athlete representatives.”
At USC, All-American hurdler Anna Cockrell noted in June that USC has at least opened a dialogue regarding the UBSAA’s concerns.
“The fortunate thing about USC is President [Carol] Folt and Mike Bohn, they’re listening right now,” Cockrell said. “It’s not a matter of leverage at this point, at all. Because we have their ear. That’s really special. While we have it, what we have to do is keep having the conversation, keep pushing the issue, and follow up with the actions that we committed to.”
Rousseau was an assistant with the Sparks for the WNBA’s inaugural 1997 season, before becoming the interim head coach with 17 games remaining. After a stint as full-time head coach in 1998, Rousseau moved on to coach at Stanford and Pepperdine.
In a statement that quoted late civil rights activist and Georgia Congressman John Lewis, Rousseau promised to be “a bridge builder for creating an environment that exemplifies regard and respect for the lives of Black student athletes at USC.”
“All Lives Can’t Matter, Until Black Lives Matter,” her statement read.