Tennessee football shifts practice for players to peacefully protest

Mike Wilson, Knoxville News Sentinel
Published 3:21 p.m. CT Aug. 26, 2020 | Updated 4:01 p.m. CT Aug. 26, 2020

Jeremy Pruitt participated in a peaceful protest against social injustices with some of his players in June. 

Now, the Tennessee football coach is shifting UT’s practice schedule to ensure his players can attend a march planned by UT athletes to call attention to institutionalized racism.

“Coach Pruitt has been on the front lines with this,” Vols wide receiver Josh Palmer said Wednesday on Zoom. “He is even moving practice around to make sure we can attend the march.”


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Tennessee athletes, including offensive lineman Trey Smith, planned the march for noon Saturday starting at the torchbearer statue on UT’s campus.

“This summer has been crazy for everybody,” Palmer said. “As a team and as African-Americans, we just are striving for change, whether that is through knowledge and being able to spread awareness and people understanding where we are coming from. (We’re) not forcing anything on anybody. Just expressing the value for human life.”

Smith and other Vols athletes have shared information on social media in recent weeks about the event.

“Student athletes at the University of Tennessee are calling attention to institutionalized racism, as well as demanding that our school commits to taking action to combat it on their own campus,” a graphic Smith posted on Aug. 15 stated. “We are calling on students and athletes at all SEC campuses, the rest of the NCAA, and any and every school willing to use their voice to march with us at their own schools on Saturday August 29th, 2020. Black lives matter, Black students matter, and change is long over due. We will no longer be silent and we demand that our voices will be heard.”

Athletes have stressed wearing masks to the march, which was planned prior to the shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday by Wisconsin police in Kenosha. Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot at least seven times by police officers over the weekend, may never walk again, family and lawyers said Tuesday.

Athletes from many Tennessee sports are expected to participate. Mariah Smith, a Tennessee women’s golf senior, and Vanessa Watson, a track and field junior, are among the organizers.

“They just wanted to spread awareness,” Palmer said. “One of the girls, Mariah Smith, we had a meeting the other day and she said the fire burns out just as much as it enflames. We want to keep pressing the situation.


Several University of Tennessee football players and head coach Jeremy Pruitt used a megaphone to address the crowd as it gathered at Market Square.

Knoxville News Sentinel

Pruitt, Smith and offensive lineman K’Rojhn Calbert spoke during a peaceful protest in downtown Knoxville on June 5.  The protest was the third major peaceful gathering in Knoxville since George Floyd died in police custody on May 25 in Minneapolis. Protests have occurred in cities around the country.

“This is leadership,” Pruitt told the crowd. “This is doing it the right way. I want to thank everybody for coming out here today. You’re talking about courage, these guys stepping up, everybody out here — this is what we have to do, and we have to do it together.”

Palmer, quarterbacks Jarrett Guarantano and Brian Maurer and defensive back Shawn Shamburger were among the Tennessee players who attended. Vols assistant coaches Derrick Ansley and Brian Niedermeyer also attended.

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at michael.wilson@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. 

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