By ERIC OLSON, AP Sports Writer
The Big Ten plans to take a group of athletes from member schools on a summer trip to civil rights sites in Alabama as part of a conference-wide program exploring race relations and social justice.
The July 15-17 trip will be funded by the Big Ten and is the first event in the conference’s Big Life Series, a program designed to provide real-life educational experiences for athletes.
Conferences across the country have developed social justice initiatives in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in May 2020. The Big Ten trip to civil rights sites is the first of its kind.
Commissioner Kevin Warren said the idea came from the Big Ten Equality Coalition, established in June 2020 to address societal injustices and stimulate dialogue about race relations. The coalition is made up of representatives from each of the 14 conference schools.
“We wanted to create an opportunity we call our ‘Big Life Series’ to provide individuals from the Big Ten Conference with an opportunity to really learn about history, to learn about social justice, to learn about the different situations that have occurred in our country and to tie it all in with a live and in-person field trip,” Warren said.
A delegation of about 100 athletes and administrators will go on the trip to Selma and Montgomery. The travel party will include both members of the coalition and other Big Ten athletes.
The tour will be highlighted by a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and a talk by Sheyann Webb. She was among 600 people who marched across the bridge on March 7, 1965, in a voting rights demonstration that became known as Bloody Sunday.
The delegation also will visit the Montgomery Interpretive Center at Alabama State to learn about the impact students had on the civil rights movement, and the significance of the Knight vs. Alabama trial, which challenged racially discriminatory policies in the state’s higher education system.
Also planned is a visit to the Legacy Museum, which provides the history of racial injustice from slavery to mass incarceration.
Warren said members of the delegation are expected to go back to their campuses and share what they learned and what it meant to them.
“We have incredible student-athletes who do well in the classroom,” Warren said. “Any time you’re able to extend that classroom to a trip — for individuals to not only see this with their own eyes but really to feel it — is really special.”
Warren, the first Black commissioner of a Power Five conference, said the Big Ten plans to sponsor similar trips annually, each focusing on an aspect of social justice.